On Friday 22nd September, both the traditional and social media was awash with the story of a female court clerk/ interpreter a one Rosemary Namuwanga, who was suspended for dressing provocatively. According to a correspondence from the Permanent Secretary of the Ugandan Judiciary, Josephine Mawunge (Mrs), Rosemary has been suspended for two weeks without salary, as her mode of dressing is frowned on by the Ugandan Judiciary.
The Uganda Public Service Standing Orders, 2010, stipulate that officers shall always be required to dress decently and in the generally acceptable standards in the Uganda Community. They however do not highlight what would constitute decent, smart and reasonable dressing.
Recently, in her establishment notice, PS Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwiire says all female members of the public service should dress in a skirt or dress that is not above the knees, with a smart, long or short sleeved blouse. She adds that sleeveless and transparent blouses and dresses will not be tolerated at the work place while all clothing is expected to cover the cleavage, navel and the back.
While the principle stands that one should dress professionally at the work place, the problem comes when wider sexist attitudes towards women and their bodies are projected in an attempt to define what constitutes decent.
It is no coincidence that office dress codes contain far more rules pertaining to women than to men. The rational for policing women and girls’ bodies is often said to avoid tempting the male of our species on the presumption that men have no self control. Rather than promoting positive masculinity and men’s responsibility, women are punished.
Rosemary’s case and many others who have been victims of body policing highlight the need to apply extra scrutiny to dress codes, to ensure that girls and boys, and women and men, are treated equally.
The second is to challenge what we have accepted as the norm and yet continues to reinforce disparate treatment of the genders, which subconsciously has affected how we treat our children, our friends and our colleagues. This will allow us to examine our motives and perhaps proceed with caution when we have an urge to police girls and women.