Recently, there was a debate on social media, which involved two ministers, about a photo of students who appeared to be wearing short skirts popularly known as ‘mini skirts’.
Many people defended the girls after an article written by a local news website questioned the appropriateness of the school uniforms worn by some school girls, saying that they are seductive.
While some people argued that girls and women should not wear short skirts, many others dismissed the claims saying that women should be allowed to wear whatever is comfortable for them.
Julienne Uwacu, the Minister for Sports and Culture says, “There is no law on dress code but we have our norms and values as Rwandans that we should maintain, a respectable woman or girl should wear clothes that dignify them but not exposing their inner body parts to the public, decency should be key when you choose what to wear.”
She further says that there are rules and regulations which were sent by the Ministry of Education last year to different schools concerning behaviour that should be followed by both the teachers and students of which dress code is inclusive.
Article 24 of the schools’ general internal rules and regulations set by the Ministry of Education states, “At school, all students shall wear the style of clothing determined by the school. The female students must wear uniform that is below the knee. The internal rules and regulations of the school shall determine how uniform shall be worn either by girls or boys.”
According to this article, although school principals are given authority to design uniforms, they should have a specific length, not short and not so long.
Article 23 states, “Teachers and other staff shall wear honorary clothes while they are at school.”
However, Uwacu urges parents to educate and groom their children about how appropriate they must dress. She also calls upon teachers to play parental roles at school, they should impart morals in to students so that they learn how to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong. That way, they will know why it is essential to be smart and decent.
Sandrine Isheja, a radio presenter at Kiss FM says women and girls have a right to dress the way they wish and be comfortable and smart, society should not condemn them or cause any violence just because they are wearing skimpy dresses and skirts.
Uwacu adds that when you dress with dignity, people will respect you at work and in society, as long as you aren’t at the beach, you ought to cover up.
74 year-old singer, Maria Yohana says back in the day girls did not wear clothes because they had none but always made sure that they covered their intimate parts however, today girls in this generation have enough clothes and they should make good use of them and cover their bodies.
“A decent lady should be dressed in a skirt long enough to cover her thighs while seated and comfortably able to look smart when she walks.”
James Monari, a lawyer at Fidelis advocates Law firm explains that although there are no specific laws that govern dress code in Rwanda, people should respect the African setting where women are expected to dress in a certain way unlike European countries that dress as they wish or according to the climate.
He adds that it is not proper for one to wear a dress or skirt that attracts everyone’s attention wherever they go.
Alex Habyarimana is a father, grandfather and a resident of Kimironko who stresses that however much there is freedom to wear anything they wish; when you walk and start pulling your skirt or dress down, that is a sign that it is already short and it does not give you comfort and confidence.
Habyarimana notes that parents ought to propose the right attire children should wear since their appearance sometimes determines how people judge them even before they speak; dressing up well is personal discipline.
“As long as you have left your home, you should dress knowing that the public is watching you, so in brief, you dress for the public, the only time you dress for yourself is when you are going to bed since that is your privacy,” he notes.
He carries on that parents should be the role models of the young generation; they should wear responsibly and must know that since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, they are obligated to be dressed to please the Lord, but not to tempt men.
Rwanda has come a long way in making gender equality a core tenet of its development and transformation vision, over the last 24 years. On the issue of mini-skirts, I’d like to echo what some government officials recently said on social media on the matter.
Our focus shouldn’t be on what girls wear, but to ensure that they reach their very best potential as students and that we address issues that girls face in school that hinder them from reaching their potential. That said, I understand there is a regulation which requires girls to wear skirts below the knees - which is the norm. That should be respected.
Diana Mpyisi, founder and director Blue Oceans
It’s not up to men to comment on women’s outfit because I have not heard women comment on men’s outfit. I think this all because of patriarchy where men think that women are their property and therefore get to comment about what they do, wear or even think.
There are also some women who were raised in the patriarchal system and want to impose the system on other women. The Rwandan culture believes that women are not men’s property and that they are in control of their lives and decisions. Women have their own views and I think that we should let them be, because even making uniform skirts a debate, to me is a problem.
Thierry Gatete, Human rights activist
I have nothing against the rule on school uniform although I do think that the policing around clothes is addressed more to women and girls and less to men and boys. By regulating what length is appropriate you are sexualising the girls and that is already sending a wrong message.
This all comes down to prioritisation in schools because there are bigger issues concerning girls that we still have a long way in addressing like teenage pregnancies and school dropouts. People need to learn that culture is evolving and part of that evolution is determining what is most relevant.
Olive Uwamariya, gender activist
I think that women should not be regulated on what they wear. There is no law that says a certain length of a skirt is indecent. It all comes with what society accepts and from our society wearing a skirt that is slightly above the knees is not considered indecent.
Bobby Rutarindwa, Communications manager, Rwanda Convention Bureau