A Facebook post by a Ugandan student, Joaninne Nanyange, which chronicles how she was stopped from entering the Law Development Centre by two women because she was inappropriately dressed [knee length skirt] has stirred a debate on the platform.
Nanyange, a student attending classes at the Law Development Centre in Kampala says she was stopped by two women wearing police uniform, who then asked her to pull her skirt down to see how far down it could go, so that she won’t tempt the men in her class.
In response Nanyange says: “I told her that was the farthest my skirt could go and there was no need to pull it. The other woman, ever with a very satisfied grin, told me I could not access the campus because my skirt was not long enough for LDC standards”.
“I was shocked. Yes. Shocked. Seeing the bewilderment on my face, the two women laboured to explain. Apparently, skirts like mine attract the boys and men that we study with and bar them from concentrating. So they could not be allowed,” she wrote.
Nanyange’s post makes further reference to a pervasive culture in the country, where violence against women is a direct result of discrimination against women, both in law and also in practice.
“But I can’t access the campus to attend my classes because when ‘my brothers’ look at my knees and legs, they will get erections”.
She asks, “But how can we be angry with boda boda men attacking and undressing women for wearing short things when we have institutions that we hold to higher levels of understanding and responsibility fostering cultures that say women are only as appropriate as men say they are?”
“How can we, in good conscience, blame Minister Kibuule for saying women that dress indecently should be raped…Our bodies have been so sexualised to points of madness and like all cases of marginalisation, the victim pays the price,” she says.
The post has divided opinion over what constitutes “appropriate dressing”, and several questions have been raised on Facebook. How should a “proper” dress code be defined and measured? Who (should) define the decency, and appropriateness of how women dress (formally and informally)? What informs institutional rules of professional attire? Some users have opined that Nanyange is overreacting, and she should just “abide by the rules” and get her qualification then leave.
The issue of what constitutes appropriate dressing for women (mini-skirts) is a controversial and highly divisive topic across the continent. Last year, Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe, caused a storm with her controversial comments attributing some cases of rape to the prevalence of mini-skirts.
Women across Africa have been fighting against practices, which violate their rights and freedom of choice. Last year, a group of women in Kenya marched for their right to dress as they choose – without fear of rape or slut-shaming – under the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice. The march came in the wake of the public shaming of a woman who was dressed in a short skirt.