How is traditional Sudanese clothing

Strict dress code for Africa's women

Uganda's women are outraged: They do not want their mini-skirts to be banned. For this they even took to the streets in the capital Kampala. The government’s new anti-pornography law prohibits the female population from wearing sexually "provocative" clothing.

"Anything that ends above the knee is forbidden. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her," warned Uganda's Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo. Originally intended as a measure to curb child pornography in particular, parts of the population now see the law as a call to vigilante justice. Suddenly girls on the streets of Uganda are being violently torn off their miniskirts, elsewhere scantily clad women are being locked out of police and post offices.

"Ugandan women and our entire society are being thrown back two hundred years into the past," says Rita Aciro Lakor from the Uganda Women Network, commenting on the law. The government is trying to regain control over women, disempower them and rebuild the patriarchal structures of the past. Lakor, however, doubts the law's success. So far it is completely unclear what the government means by "provocative" clothing. When is a skirt too short and a top too revealing? "The government will find it difficult to implement the regulation nationwide - also because we will challenge the law and hopefully other human rights organizations too."

Sudan, Swaziland, Nigeria - freedom of movement is severely punished

In Uganda, the legal form of the anti-pornography law is still controversial. In other parts of Africa, dress code violations are already severely punished. According to Amnesty International, a woman in Sudan can be punished with 40 lashes if she wears pants or does not cover her hair. Mini skirts and hipsters have been banned in Swaziland since 2012. Women risk six months in prison for violating the law. And in the metropolis of Lagos in southern Nigeria, female state employees have also been facing jail for a few weeks if they come to work dressed in "indecent" clothes.

Veiled: There are religious dress codes in northern Nigeria

However, there were no major protests against the dress code among the Nigerian population. In Lagos, men in particular are convinced of the benefits of the law: "Many women abuse their freedom and are too revealing. But we have to preserve our dignity and that's why I support the law," says Habibat Kunle, who has been with the for more than 20 years Government employed. Lateef Haroun sees it the same way, who says: "Women who flaunt their bodies do not belong in our society. Parts of the woman's body are simply sacred, so only the husband should see them."

Dress codes culturally desirable

In many parts of the West African country, religiously motivated labels prevail, explains Jane Osagie from the UN Research Group on Reproductive Rights in Nigeria. Muslim women in the north of the country wear headscarves, the female population in the Christian south traditionally wear covered clothing. A dress code like in Lagos is culturally desirable to a certain extent. "I also don't want our girls to dress like women in the western world and become sex objects." Nevertheless, every woman must be able to decide for herself which clothing suits her best, affirms Osagie. She therefore considers it wrong to ban certain items of clothing from the public completely: "I would not encourage my daughter to wear a miniskirt, but neither would I forbid her to do so by law."

Free movement allowed: women of a Zulu tribe in South Africa in traditional clothes

5000 kilometers further south, the young generation's wardrobes can no longer be imagined without the miniskirt. In South Africa, women who show too much skin in public can still expect insults - or worse. In the past, there have been multiple attacks in Johannesburg, in which women dressed freely were insulted, touched or forced to strip down to their underwear in the street. In the countryside, however, Zulu women usually hide their trousers as a precaution when entering a village - as trousers are not considered appropriate clothing for a woman there. The UN women's rights adviser Anu Pillay sees the modern compulsory dress as a contradiction to the South African culture. Because many traditional customs stipulate that young women are bare-breasted and often do not wear more than a short skirt.

Mini skirts trigger rape?

Why is the mini skirt causing a stir in South Africa? The women's rights expert explains this with a social control mechanism: "The modern understanding of women as an equal, independent being is by no means accepted by all social classes. Many South African men ignore the emancipation efforts and continue to see women as an obligation to marry and bear children, the man to obey strictly, "said Pillay. If necessary, this obedience is enforced by force. The international police agency Interpol assumes that in South Africa a woman is forced to have sex every 17 seconds. The pretext of the perpetrators is often: the women would almost provoke a rape with provocative clothing. According to this logic, the women themselves are to be blamed for the high rape rates.

Christa Stolle: Rape myths restrict women in their self-determination

"That is of course absurd. Studies have shown that women are abused, no matter how old they are, no matter how they are dressed," says Christa Stolle from the women's rights organization Terre des Femmes. In too many African countries, however, such rape myths continued to justify sexual assault - and further restrict women in their self-determination. This will not change in the future as long as the women are not involved in solving the problem, said Stolle. "More information, education, more rights and opportunities for political participation for women, more of them in senior positions in the police - then the rape rate drops very quickly." Perhaps the women on the streets of Kampala, Lagos and Johannesburg could then one day wear their miniskirts - without fear and as a sign of a new self-confidence.