Comment: The Dress Debate
The reason for strict dress rules in the village is not publicly talked about. But it is all about protecting women from sexual predators who prey on the vulnerable and the innocent
Last week, the issue of what women wear in relation to violence and sexual offences committed against them was a hot topic of discussion at the Speaker’s Debate last Monday. The issue can be divided into two. One, is the standard of dress. Second, is whether it is linked to these offences against women.
Let’s start by saying that the Constitution protects the rights of women. Those rights include their choice of dress standards. But where it becomes tricky is when you apply those rights in a traditional village setting.
Most, if not all, iTaukei villages require women and girls to dress modestly and appropriately within the village precincts. That means they are not allowed to wear short dresses and skirts, short and long pants and revealing tops. They are basically required to cover up. Once they leave the villages they can do as they please. The rule is there to protect the sanctity and dignity of the traditional village culture. While the real reason behind this rule is not publicly talked about, it is all about protecting women from sexual predators who prey on the vulnerable and the innocent. There is real genuine fear and concern that scantily dressed women and girls attract these predators. And there appears to be a growing group out there of sex maniacs, judging by the spike in the number of cases of sexual offences coming before the courts. We only come to know about them when they surface, commit the offence and are apprehended by Police. But we cannot blame it on dress alone as the cause. Anything we can do to create public awareness to prevent cases happening is welcome.
From a cultural perspective, dress is an important consideration, hence the strict enforcement of the village rule. Whether this breaches the basic right of women is an interesting question. However, we generally recognise and respect the unwritten law in the village because it serves a good purpose. That seems to be the generally accepted principle. We do not tamper with something that seems to be working.
But as we all know it is not perfect because some sexual offences have been committed in villages.
It goes to show that despite the best of all our intentions, some will still go against the tide and commit crime because they are different and may have had a terrible upbringing. What women wear is based on fashion trends and it is amazing to see how history has influenced and changed the way we have dressed from time to time. Some of the “fads” have come and gone and are influenced by taste, social groups and status and cultural preferences. Much of what we see people wear today, particularly the younger generation, is dictated by pop culture and celebrities. Whether they conform to our cultural and religious standards is a matter for debate. Many men and women dress to attract attention. It’s a natural human tendency. Unfortunately it can also attract sexual deviants. The issue that needs to be addressed is how we can deal with these deviants. Normal people will treat our women and children with respect and dignity irrespective of how they dress because they recognise their rights. They will not demean them and violate their rights. Real men will protect women not harm them despite how they dress. We need to change our mindset and treat our women and children with respect and dignity not as mere sex objects.
Normal people will treat our women and children with respect and dignity irrespective of how they dress because they recognise their rights. They will not demean them and violate their rights. Real men will protect women not harm them despite how they dress.
This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say in the FBC TV programme, 4 The Record