DRESS CODE ON TRIAL: Use social remedies, not jail, to fix social ills

DRESS CODE ON TRIAL: Use social remedies, not jail, to fix social ills
Revelers at a concert. PHOTO | Adrien Kubwayo

What should we wear so as not to annoy custodians of culture, the church and self-appointed police of morality a.k.a conservatives?

Skirts, shorts or trousers? How short, how long, how tight and how transparent should/shouldn't they be? What about the tops?
These are some of the questions on the mind of many women and girls in Rwanda following the apparent crackdown on ‘indecent’ dress code by the law enforcers.

Surprisingly, not paying attention to the dress code before going out in public implies one runs the risk of being turned away or being denied entry at public venues, on top of arrest and subsequent prosecution in the worst case scenario.

In fact, one Liliane Mugabekazi, 24, was arraigned in court this week over public indecency after pictures of her in a see-through attire at a concert on July 30 went viral.

She was arrested days later, and now faces up to two years in prison if found guilty per the legal penal provisions that stipulate that "any person who performs an indecent act in public, commits an offence."

Pictures of her and other girls and women have been making rounds on social media, and they became subject of online shaming and ridicule by members of the public who judge their dress code indecent.

Reports also indicate girls and women were turned away at concerts over the past weeks for indecent dressing.

Clothes' choices women, girls and anyone else make had been a non-issue in the country for quite some time. 
But things suddenly changed recently when the Spokesperson of Rwanda National Police CP John Bosco Kabera, in a televised programme, cautioned revelers over public indecency, use and abuse of alcohol, among others mostly by he youth.

The arrest and subsequent prosecution of Ms. Mugabekazi would soon follow.

Officials including the local government minister and others have weighed in on the issue mostly voicing concerns over youths’ conduct in public that go contrary to good morals and Rwandan cultural values.

Even former ministers – including one for justice and attorney general – who once warned men against policing women and girls clothing in debates of similar nature in the past took social media to explain how this time they support efforts to crack down on the dress code.

One of them had said in a Twitter post that “the problem is not the girl in the skirt, but the man who constantly watches her, checks her and dictates what she should wear. We need to stop this nonsense.”

Now the question activists are asking: why make women and girls’ bodies objects of public interest? Why judge women and girls’ character based on the way they dress?

Why penalize them or shame them publicly for wearing clothes of their choosing?

Many who are engaged in the debate concur that, yes, cultural values and morals do matter for any society but who defines what’s decent wear in absence of a dress code policy that’s applicable to the general public.

Many who spoke to this publication, including the youth, are actually of the view that provided it’s not a case of people going to church, market, formal meetings or entering schools dressed the same way they would when going to a night club, concert or the beach, then there shouldn’t be all the fuss.

But if of all issues Rwandans are grappling with at the moment, a general dress code policy is what is need the most, then let it be. 
However, it must have nothing to do with a particular gender, and a good one shouldn’t send those who violate it to jail.

Authorities are equally worried that on top of ‘going public while naked’, young men and women are also increasingly drinking and drugging themselves unconscious.

But why not, instead of resorting to courts and jails, put to task the ministries and agencies in charge of the youth, and family promotion taking huge sums of money out of the national treasury each year to design and implement programmes and projects that should be addressing exactly these issues.

In fact, from the ongoing discussions it has emerged that failing parenting ranks among top root causes of some of these social problems that authorities are concerned about.

However, courts and jails will barely solve social ills that homes, the education system, churches and other social spaces should be fixing and have failed to fix?

So use social avenues, not courts or jails, to fix social problems.

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E-mail: kugire@therwandapost.com