A fierce debate has ensued in Uganda over new directives on women’s clothing. The directives are the start of a crackdown on what civil servants are allowed to now wear in the country but they focus mostly on women and some of those women are unhappy with Uganda’s new strict dress code.
The debate occupying the public space covers issues of the definition of morality, what part clothes play in that definition and the state of women’s rights in the country.
All these might seem like a bit of an overreaction, considering the codes of dressing in workplaces have always been regulated to an extent along the lines of corporate and casual clothing. A look at all the don’t in Uganda’s new strict dress code may, however, explain things better.
In Uganda’s new strict dress code, women are not allowed to:
- Wear a skirt or dress that is above the knees
- Wear sleeveless, transparent blouses and dresses
- Show cleavage, navel, knees, and back
- Have bright-coloured hair (natural hair, braids or hair extensions)
- Have nails longer than 3cms (1.5in), or have bright or multi-coloured nail polish
On the part of men in Uganda’s New Strict Dress Code, they must:
- Wear neat trousers, long-sleeved shirts, jacket and a tie
- Not wear tight fitting trousers
- Not have open shoes, except on health grounds/recommendation.
- Have well-groomed, short hair
These new directives are giving a new, or rather an old and traditional, definition to dressing decently. The human resources director at the Public Service Ministry, Adah Muwanga, said that the new circular was needed because of complaints about female public officers that were placed by male counterparts who said “body parts should be covered”.
Agnes Kunihira, the workers representative in parliament told AFP that; “Women get less pay. This directive will make women fear going to workplaces for fear of losing their jobs because they don’t have money to buy new dresses and change hairstyles.”
Some women say they have been attacked for wearing clothes deemed too revealing. Others deem the main concern to be the cost of implementing the rules, rather than the rules themselves, and the fact that workers were not consulted prior to the declaration of the directives.
This is not the first time that female civil servants in Uganda have had to contend with dress code directives. An earlier directive from 2010, where all Ugandan workers were required to dress neat and practically for their jobs, has been called to mind and deemed to be a sufficient measure.
Critics of all the new caveats being imposed by this new dress code say that it is simply distracting from real issues in Uganda. Popular vocal activist, Stella Nyanzi, wrote on her platform of choice, Facebook; “Somebody tell Catherine Bitarakwate and Adah Muwanga that the masses refuse to be distracted from the planned removal of the presidential age limit. Who really cares what public servants in Uganda wear, when the emperor walks around naked?”