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« Funso Williams Left Politics to the Dogs | Main | Plight of Bakassi: Local and International Conspiracy? »

July 31, 2006

Nigerian Women and Indecent Dressing: The other Side of the Coin

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- Recently, sentinels of religion, morality and culture in Nigeria have taken up cudgels to compel our female folk to dress decently. Activists in this campaign include dons, priests and government officials.

Indeed, some of them have taken tough measures to put our women back on the narrow path. Sometime in 2004 there was a newspaper report about a clergyman who refused to officiate at a wedding because the bride was inappropriately dressed. There have been speculations about a proposed law on dressing code in the national assembly. Of course, dressing codes are now the norm in many Nigerian universities.

To an extent these efforts are commendable. Many of our ladies have run amok in the name of freedom and fashion. But every coin has two sides, and I hesitate to join a bandwagon running on the wheels of ignorance and hypocrisy.

Before we condemn our female folk for indecent dressing anywhere in this country, let us get our facts straight. Who and what determine what is decent dressing in Nigeria? If we use so-called cultural norms as a yardstick, do we accept that these are relative, and dynamic? There are parts of Nigeria where the baring of breasts to public gaze is inoffensive. While I do not subscribe to such standards, their owners’ culture influence their dressing, and the only way to check it is to address their culture.

Nigerians are not immune to Western values. Like or loathe them, they have permeated all aspects of our lives. Some of the things we copied from the white man are not the best but why aren’t we facing the challenges of cultural contacts? How many of these campaigners have tried to filter through both cultures and synthesize the good in them?

The religious and moral chieftains who hold sway on this subject should be cautious. At times they give the impression of living in the Victorian era; an era of moral/religious chieftains who hid hideous evils and perversion under the cloak of keeping society to the straight path. It is pertinent to lay some ground rules for the decent dressing campaign. First, what does Christianity and Islam – which are foreign to these parts – say on the matter, both implicitly and explicitly? How do our men of God interpret these principles in contemporary Nigeria? Must a Nigerian woman dress like her sisters in Palestine and Saudi Arabia in the era of the compilation of the Holy Books to qualify for heaven? What if a woman doesn’t subscribe to any of these religions or a particular branch of faith?

True, even atheists have basic moral principles. It is also true that morality is concerned with the general good. Viewed from this perspective, one’s dressing, irrespective of sex, should not unduly assault others’ sensibilities. But then dressing is not just a moral issue: aesthetics, purpose and taste are involved.

How morally equipped are those power-mongers who impose codes on our women? If our legislators are capable of stripping our treasury naked, if our religious leaders are incapable of telling our ruling elite to address those ills that, if the U.S. intelligence report on sub-Saharan Africa is anything to go by, threaten our corporate existence, why then do they pour venom on our women? Maybe they do not know that many of our ladies who dress the way they do want to grab a share of the national treasury by enticing those who stole what is rightfully theirs (the ladies) in the first place.

We should get our sense of right and wrong back on track. This has nothing to do with the twisted type of religion we practise in Nigeria. Picking on our women is no solution to our problem. Yes, their bodies maybe blessed sexual magnets that attract men, but there are many of our men folk who would lay a nun on the floor, if they get the chance. So who is deceiving whom?

Let us move beyond impositions on the women. Let us, irrespective of gender, begin a reorientation that puts the woman in her proper, God-created position as an equal and dignified member of the society. Let us, both individually and collectively, cease promoting our women’s sexuality as their sole asset. Above all, let us accept that this is the 21st century and even a madwoman would not want to go back to the woman-degrading days of our ancestors.

An award winning writer, Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama
lives in Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.

Posted by Administrator at July 31, 2006 12:05 AM


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