Langevin Seeks to Offer Amendment to Ban Forced Wearing of Abayas by American Servicewomen in Saudi Arabia

May 8, 2002
(Washington, D.C.)–Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) will today appeal to the House Rules Committee to allow his amendment, which would prohibit the military from requiring or strongly encouraging U.S. servicewomen in Saudi Arabia from wearing abayas, to be offered during floor consideration of the Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 4546.   

The hearing will take place at 4:30 p.m. today in H 313 at the U.S. Capitol and the authorization bill is scheduled to be debated tomorrow and Friday.

“Women make first-class soldiers and should not be treated like second-class citizens,” said Congressman Langevin.  “Male personnel are not required to grow beards, wear Muslim clothing or embrace any other religious customs in this way, and neither should women.”

Langevin’s amendment would prohibit the military from requiring or strongly encouraging servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to wear abayas and prohibits adverse action against a servicemember for choosing not to wear an abaya.  The amendment would also provide for education to Armed Forces members ordered to duty in Saudi Arabia on these prohibitions and would block the military from making regular procurements of abayas.  

The government of Saudi Arabia does not require non-Muslim women to wear abayas, and the State Department does not require nor strongly encourage its female embassy employees or tourists to wear abayas.  Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Mrs. Cheney did not wear abayas during their visits to Saudi Arabia.

“Forcing our female troops to wear the abaya has a negative impact on our recruitment and retention of highly qualified military personnel and diminishes morale, discipline and the chain of command headed by female service members,” added Langevin.

Langevin began pushing for a ban on the abaya requirement after learning of Lt. Col. Martha McSally’s 7-year struggle to end the Pentagon-ordered policy.  McSally, a Rhode Islander who was raised in Langevin’s home town, is the first U.S. female service member to fly in combat and was stationed in Saudi Arabia.