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November 16th 2003

REGULATION OF FEMALE DRESSING:

Another outright discrimination against women

Within the context of the socio-economic and political realities of Nigeria today, the Ogun State House of Assembly’s intention to pass a bill to regulate female dressing is an unnecessary diversion and an act of escapism. It will not achieve the objectives for which it is proposed.

According to these politicians who are pretending to be holier than the Pope, social problems like rape, prostitution, stealing etc. will cease or be reduced to almost zero level if only the society can regulate female dressing.

The advocates of the regulation (dress code) believe that these days, females are going naked, so there is a need for a bill to regulate their dressing to be passed. They emphasize that what women are increasingly putting on are provocative dressing, immoral dressing, and indecent dressing. Their definition of the dressing is "any dressing that can arouse the manhood of a man". They are of the belief that such so called provocative dressing causes men to rape young women.

The Ogun State House of Assembly is debating the bill and it is trying to seek people’s opinion on it. Likewise, most of the campuses are also debating it and it seems the media is now following suit.

To some of us, the attempt to pass a law on provocative dressing constitutes an infringement on women’s human right. As a woman I should be able to dress to express myself the way I want to. I am not dressing to please men or the other party but to suit myself. If a man feels my dressing is affective, he should please feel free to take off his eyes. Dressing that way does not mean I am a prostitute or that I am advertising my body for exchange for cash. I just feel like expressing myself the way it occurs to me.

In any event, we have heard about 30 year-old men raping five year-old girls. What is provocative in a five year-old girl or a 50 year-old woman?

In this 21st century, when some progress is being made in the quest for women’s liberation it seems some Nigerian men are now trying to regulate female dressing just to please themselves. Such a retrogressive bill should not see the light of the day because there are more burning issues to be discussed while it will constitute discrimination against women and an infringement on women’s human right as human beings.

Among the numerous problems in Nigeria today is that of hunger, as more than 70% of the population live below the poverty line i.e. living on less than 1 dollar ($1) a day. One would expect the legislators to think of how to create job opportunities or provide basic amenities of life for the people. They are trying to treat the symptoms rather than the causes of the social problem.

Dr. Ali Shettima Munguno who was the first Petroleum Minister in Nigeria and also a politician of the old order said, "If I had to be corrupt, I would have had some places to fly and build palaces to live in. But I decided not to. And these are things ordinary people want. How come that somebody who has just been in office for two years, has bought a fleet of cars and build not just a palace but palaces. These no doubt have made people to believe that it is lucrative to go into government, it does not matter how much it cost them". (Saturday Guardian 8th Nov. 2003)

The above is a typical example to show how corrupt our leaders are. They make money for their selfish interest at the expense of Nigerian masses. We have a male dominated assembly, yet nothing works in Nigeria. Denmark and Finland are typical example of countries where discrimination against women is a taboo. The immediate advantage here is that going by the records of the transparency international recently released, Finland was declared the cleanest in the world free from corruption and followed by Denmark, which is said to have more women ministers than men ministers. This is a typical example of the potential women can display if given the opportunity.

The National Youth Service Corp’s (NYSC) new law is also an issue to contend with as it forbids pregnant women from going on service. Men are still dictating to women in all areas of life, they are not only regulating our dressing, they are also regulating our reproductive health right.

Far from expressing the needs and aspirations of the majority of people, however, the views put forward by the politicians on these supposedly "non-political" issues reflect the system of society, which they uphold. Capitalism means the exploitation of the working class by a tiny minority who holds the wealth and power in society and pursue their greed for profit through the anarchy of the market. The super exploitation of women has always been part and parcel of capitalism.

I therefore call on all change seeking Nigerians to campaign against any legislation that discriminate against women and demean the working class.

Titi Salaam is a Programme Officer, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Secretary, Women Section, Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)