If you live in Africa, then you are not a stranger to the war on mini-skirts. For over 50 years, this piece of clothing has been consistently thrown into the spotlight; as legislators have fought to see it banned. One of the most interesting aspects of this five decade standoff is how Africa’s rationale for banning the mini-skirt has constantly changed, but remained consistent on restricting the rights of women. To be honest, African women have had and are still having great challenges in their own land. Their intelligence, work ethic, opinions, leadership skills and dress code still sends strong signals of intimidation to the African. Even though some African women have propelled themselves to impressive achievements, it is clear systems and mind-sets are still in place to hamper the growth of our women. The case of the mini-skirt has been on trial since the 1960s and with the help of history, we can look at how the conversation has evolved:
Cultural Nationalism (1960-70s)
The act of policing appearance and clothing began after most African countries gained independence in the 1960s. Governments used this opportunity to discuss and enact legislation that would resist foreign influence whilst promoting cultural or ‘appropriate’ ways of dressing. At this point, the war on mini-skirts began but interestingly, men were not spared. The discussion for men centred on long hair, unkempt beards and tight pants. The mini-skirt then fell out of fashion in the late 1970s and the African discussion on it died the down.
The Comeback (1990s)
As with any fashion trend, a comeback is always on the cards. In the 1990s, the miniskirt returned and the controversy around it reignited. This time, the war on the clothing had a different narrative. Unlike the 1960s’ discussions on how it destroyed culture, Africa now felt that it challenged male authority. Similar discussions and proposed action were planned for women wearing trousers, again Africa felt this was challenging the way of life and blurring gender roles. Unfortunately the 1990s began a disgusting habit of publicly stripping or harassing women in ‘revealing clothing’.
Violence & Excuses (2000s – present)
The new millennium picked up were the 1990s left off and continued to violently target women dressed in certain ways. These attacks often occurred in public spaces and were perpetrated by herds of misguided men. Clothing is now used as excuse for rape or verbal assault. African women are told that one of the way to avoid sexual harassment is cover up and ‘not offer temptation’. As our continent has progressed, one of the successes is the increased public support on women’s rights and coming to a realisation that empowering African women is empowering the African continent. It is worth noting that the focus on a man’s appearance has sharply declined over the years and a majority of these men now act as barriers to further progress.
In all the efforts that have been made to advance women’s rights in Africa, we can all agree that a lot more work still needs to be done. Every time we think that we are moving forward, we read a statement, or watch an interview or listen to prominent member in society try to take us back. We can only hope that Africa will shift its focus to more pressing matters than trying to police the length of a woman’s skirt. I can only hope that by the time my son or daughter reads this, he or she will be living in an Africa that has fully realised that women’s rights are not up for discussion.
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