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Adebayo Okeowo: Thou Shall Not Wear A Mini Skirt

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I had been informed of Swaziland’s intolerance for women in short skirts or revealing clothes but to witness it firsthand hand was a totally different experience. Now what I saw was not a skimpily clad daughter of Adam but a grandmother who berated two young girls for wearing short skirts and revealing tops. Considering the case of a girl who was publicly stripped at a taxi rank in Manzini (one of Swaziland’s cities) for wearing a mini skirt and her thighs scrubbed with a brush, mini skirts are probably the next greatest act of treason in Swaziland, second only to the crime of insulting the king.

For a country like Swaziland which holds the honour of being the world’s last standing absolute monarchy, the situation is especially ironic because every August in the same Kingdom, thousands of young girls participate in the highly celebrated reed dance during which they appear topless and wear tiny things which reveal more skin than the condemned mini-skirts. It is therefore hypocritical for Swazis to insist that women should not wear mini-skirts on the grounds that it is revealing. This reservation is widespread to the point that the Police in 2012 blocked women dressed in mini-skirts from demonstrating against rape. More worrisome is the notion in some quarters that wearing skimpy clothes justifies rape. So while the government should be arresting perpetrators of sex crimes, it is instead placing the onus of rape prevention on the women who wear supposedly skimpy clothes.

When I conversed with some men in Swaziland about their intolerance for the mini skirt vis-à-vis the reed dance dressing, their response was that ‘the reed dance is our culture’. That reasoning is flawed because if the said men can allege that the reed dance is their culture and no sexual connotation flows from the nudity, then it can be argued that they after all can exercise self control and restraint if they wanted to in cases of the mini skirt. I know a lot of Swazis are proud of the reed dance culture – women inclusive and I am not all about abandoning that cultural practice (even though I have reservations about it). My premise here is more about the double standards. Why tell a woman that she cannot wear her mini skirt because you will as a result have urges but find nothing wrong with topless women? How would men respond if women told them not to wear shorts or fitted shirts because it also gives them urges?

Truth is, long skirts and full garbs don’t reduce the rape statistics, reasonable, self controlled and disciplined people do!

This problem does not exist only in Swaziland. From Brazil to India and even Uganda, women are fighting the battle of control over the right to choose what to wear. In 2012, India’s Director General of Police had said that women who dress in ‘flimsy and fashionable’ clothing are inviting men to harass them. Meanwhile in Uganda, the country’s 2014 anti-pornography law has the effect of banning women from wearing mini-skirts. The fact that women’s dressing has become the subject of legislation while men are not, serves to accentuate the inequality which the world has fought hard against for too long. and has tried to get rid of through conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Meanwhile, not only has Swaziland accented to CEDAW, but Section 20 of its 2005 constitution also upholds the principle of non-discrimination and equality. It therefore becomes unconstitutional for agents of the state or even individuals to continually subject women to discriminatory practices based on what they wear. States are not allowed to pick and choose which rights to promote or protect, neither can culture be invoked as an excuse to contravene human rights. It is for this reason that the CEDAW and the African Women’s Protocol particularly have provisions which call for customary practices that violate human rights to be transformed in order to remove their discriminatory element.

But if these will not work maybe it is time to introduce a rather rash provision across all international treaties, which I shall propose to read as follows:

‘Any man that uses a woman’s dressing as justification for rape shall be guilty of a double measure of the sentence prescribed for the crime of rape’

If you consider that proposition ridiculous, that is exactly how preposterous it sounds when a man claims to have raped a woman because she wore a mini-skirt.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Bobby Deal
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Adebayo Okeowo is a human rights lawyer whose experience traverses both government and private organizations. His most recent engagement was as Program Officer for the Nigeria office of Global Rights – a human rights organization headquartered in Washington. He is the founder of the White Code Centre and is currently studying at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

 

Adebayo Okeowo is a human rights lawyer whose experience traverses both government and private organizations. He is currently engaged with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and is the founder of the White Code Centre (www.whitecodecentre.org).Twitter: @AdebayOkeowo

16 Comments

  1. Tahakeino

    June 25, 2014 at 10:19 am

    That is so true,double standards. Plus I think that it”s awesome coming from a man, mostly it’s womenfolk that fight this and then are tagged ‘troublesome feminists’. Way to go Bayo.

  2. Ada Nnewi

    June 25, 2014 at 10:26 am

    This statement “Any man that uses a woman’s dressing as justification for rape shall be guilty of a double measure of the sentence prescribed for the crime of rape” becoming law will ebb the madness!

  3. Amiphat

    June 25, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Honestly, when I saw the title of the article, I was almost sure you had gotten the name of the country wrong. Swaziland kwa? Asides a horny ostentatious King who loves young brides, isn’t the next thing the country is known for the “perky tits and ass” display of their maidenhood ceremony?

    Wow – some people’s hypocrisy beggars belief!!

    Abeg please ban the eating of Banana’s by women too while you are at it. Its too sensuous and can tempt men to rape.

    Banza kawai!!

    • chu

      June 25, 2014 at 11:36 am

      LOL

    • Berry Dakara

      June 25, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      Lol @ the banana bit.

      berrydakara.blogspot.com

  4. BB

    June 25, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Hello, nice write up Bayo. Ladies, this article is not an excuse to wear ridiculously short skirts but an attempt at attaining fairness

    • lace

      June 25, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Nobody needs an excuse to wear ridiculously short shirts, clearly people already do. #stoptryingtopolicepeople #itwillneverwork .

  5. Dee

    June 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Africans in general are hypocrites. People preach morality when it suits them yet this is a Continent so full of sin. People keep claiming we have better moral standards than the west yet our society reflects the exact opposite.

    • Cancel Reply

      June 25, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      #gbam

  6. Obi

    June 26, 2014 at 1:21 am

    Moving a bit further from the obvious point of this article, I think a question to ask would be “why would someone consider near-nudity or nudity to be okay when it is based on culture, while at the same time abhor same near nudity when not done under cultural MO?” Aside from the issue of hypocrisy which the writer and comments have highlighted of course. Any anthropologists in the house? Makes me think of accepting food served by my mother, but rejecting same food when served by another … why???

  7. Bella

    June 26, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Back in the day, some cultures wore nothing, I wasn’t there personally but was there rape? I think history mentions some married women covered their bits, today still, some cultures in the amazon or mountains the man only cover their front bits and leave their backs bare, now is that also meaning to say they should be violated?

  8. Afolabi Omowunmi

    June 26, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Great piece bro.
    We have traditions and cultures that permit alot of “irresponsibility”
    Then we blame someone else for our misbehaviour.

  9. Kemi

    June 26, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    RAPE & MINI SKIRTS! I really don’t think these two should be put together in a sentence cos that is more or less making an excuse for rape or saying something might cause a guy to rape a girl. I do not think there is any relationship between the two because there is absolutely no excuse for rape! If a woman walks around naked it is still no reason for her to be raped. So I don’t think an act of a woman or omission should be associated with the reason for rape. I do not even believe that when discussing reasons for rape, a woman should be considered in d mix.

  10. adedoyin

    June 27, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    I totally agree that self controled and reasonable human beings can avoid rape. Men need to excercise self control. only a sick person would forcefully have sex with a woman…or child as the case may be. Yes, Skimpy and revealing clothing may contribute to the act in some way, but U dont grab an item from a shelf. cus it looks too good to pass up…You go’n pay! Word up Bayo.

  11. fabrizzo

    August 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Why dont u help get shorts recognised as formalwear for men at work and events before trying to champion for women to have totalitarian rights to reveal however they like?Are u aware in most developed countries women go in and out of office in miniwear like nobody’s business,while not a single man dares to enter the workplace in shorts?This is not to mention that women are allowed tights in place of pants while men arent.The very fact that right from the beginning skirts only need be knee length to be considered formal,while pants need to be full length to be considered formal,is already a clear sign of slutshaming towards the men.Now its made even worse by miniskirts being accepted,hence the only leg(and often arm) exposure u see come from the women.Why are women entitled to expose while men arent?
    In my opinion,school shorts should be allowed for schooling boys for all ages,and also recognised as worthy offciewear for young male staff on casual days.

  12. fabrizzo

    August 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    To add,i dont care what course of action reduces rape,or whether such course of action is even valid.Crminals are meant to be dealt with by the law.What im concerned with is treating men how u advocate women be treated,and not just give women all the concessions while leaving men with nothing.

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