Want to ban women in trousers? Give me a skirt and I’ll show you my spindly calves

The East African - - OPINION - JENERALI ULIMWENGU Jenerali Ulimwengu is chair­man of the board of the Raia Mwema news­pa­per and an ad­vo­cate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]

You must have heard the one about the Speaker of our par­lia­ment ban­ning fe­male leg­is­la­tors from en­ter­ing what they call the au­gust House wear­ing fake nails and eye­lashes.

That was an­other ex­am­ple of the kind of stroke of ge­nius pro­duced at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals by our un­der­em­ployed chiefs. Some­how they find them­selves so bored by the te­dious busi­ness of be­ing a gov­ern­ment rub­ber stamp that they have to shop around for some­thing in­ter­est­ing to say or do.

I have met many women par­lia­men­tar­i­ans since that “ban” and some of them looked to me like they were wear­ing those dan­ger­ous ar­ti­cles, but, since I met them far from par­lia­ment, I sur­mised that they were in­dulging those il­licit plea­sures just be­cause the Speaker could not see them. Or, maybe, the ban had sim­ply ex­pired, as such silli­ness tends to do of­ten.

I was re­minded of this when I re­cently read some­where that Su­danese women were banned from wear­ing such of­fen­sive gear as trousers, and that men with Afros were be­ing shaved forcibly. I was won­der­ing why women could not wear trousers and men could not grow afros. Maybe it is be­cause trousers are seen in some twisted minds as garb for men only, which means that women who wear them are lit­er­ally trans­ves­tites, an abom­i­na­tion.

But the gown, or dress, that we tend to as­so­ciate with women was for a long time the only wear men were seen in. We can­not claim to have pho­to­graphs of Moses or Je­sus, but the paint­ings we have of them show them in gowns, as well as Leonardo da Vinci, Filippo Brunelleschi and Marco Polo, plus all the popes to this day.

So, se­ri­ously, there is a com­pelling ar­gu­ment for a dress code that is gen­der neu­tral. We can take a few pages from our friends of the Scot­tish High­lands with the miniskirts they call kilts, or our broth­ers the Maori who wear short skirts (ra­paki) to show off their well-de­vel­oped calves. I per­son­ally would shrink from that kind of ex­po­sure only on ac­count of a poor leg­line hardly worth show­ing.

Still we must ask, why do our rulers waste so much time on non-is­sues when real and ur­gent prob­lems are left to solve them­selves? It is mainly be­cause the hard ques­tions of so­ci­etal and na­tional life do not lend them­selves to easy cat­e­gori­sa­tion and sham so­lu­tions.

No ruler, how­ever pow­er­ful, can ban hunger, but they can ban peo­ple say­ing that they are hun­gry. They can­not abol­ish dis­ease, but they can or­der peo­ple to not say they are sick on pain of be­ing locked up. Our rulers some­times act and talk as if they are about to or­der us to be happy.

In the Su­dan, how­ever, there seems to be a very prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tion for the in­tru­sive be­hav­iour of the rulers who go af­ter young men and women who dress in of­fen­sive ways.

Some years ago, the pres­i­dent of that coun­try, Omar al-bashir, was in­dicted be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court on war crimes com­mit­ted in the re­gion of Dar­fur, and since then he has been duck­ing and dodg­ing ar­rest when­ever he trav­els out­side his coun­try. He is vir­tu­ally a pris­oner at home.

This may have sobered him some­what, and we hear very lit­tle of the atroc­i­ties that we used to hear about that prov­ince.

But the Jan­jaweed that Bashir used to un­leash on the peo­ple of Dar­fur have to be kept in a job, and so they are de­ployed else­where.

Restyled the “Pub­lic Or­der Force,”’ they are now kept busy ha­rass­ing young peo­ple who look like they are “de­viant” by their dress or other out­ward be­hav­iour.

The Jan­jaweed served Bashir well in Dar­fur by at­tack­ing vil­lages and ham­lets sus­pected to be sym­pa­thetic to anti-gov­ern­ment rebels.

They es­tab­lished their fe­ro­cious rep­u­ta­tion as horse­borne jin­nis, mas­sacring the men and rap­ing the women. Now they have found a gen­tler, more ’civilised’ call­ing. They only flog the badly dressed women—those in trousers and whose hair is not cov­ered – and bru­tally shave the Afros of way­ward

We don’t have pho­to­graphs of Moses or Je­sus, but the paint­ings we have of them show them in gowns.” We can count our­selves lucky that we are not Su­danese, but it is still lit­tle com­fort when you know that your rulers are be­com­ing more il­log­i­cal by the day

young men.

By this ac­count we can count our­selves lucky that we are not Su­danese, but it is still lit­tle com­fort when you know that your rulers are be­com­ing more and more il­log­i­cal by the day.

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