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

Fiji Sun - - Front Page - Ne­mani De­laibatiki Feed­back: ne­mani.de­laibatiki@fi­jisun.com.fj

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

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