Varsity uniforms proposal sparks outrage

Blessings Chidakwa Herald Correspondent

People from all walks of life, including Government officials, yesterday reacted with outrage to a proposal by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) for tertiary institutions to introduce uniforms for female students, ostensibly to avoid sexual abuse.

Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Sithembiso Nyoni equated the proposal to the abuse of women.

“We shouldn’t respect the uniform, but the person,” she said. “It means we are saying our men have no respect for women, but uniforms. The issue is not about uniforms, but respect for each other as human beings. There is no reason why we should abuse other people.”

Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira said the idea was not a law.

“Universities Acts have no statutes that regulate wearing of uniforms,” he said.

“However, it is a very free country and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion as this is not a directive.”

University of Zimbabwe’s Zimbabwe Congress of Students Union secretary-general Wilbert Muzaruwetu said the issue was not about what one wore, but perceptions.

Instead, he said, ZGC should do a survey of at least 50 000 people and see if it would come up with such recommendations.

SAYWHAT, a non-governmental organisation, said a dress code for the students would be an act to further reinforce the dictates of patriarchy in which society was always policing the dressing of women.

“Having a dress code cannot be sustainable way of addressing the issue, what needs to be changed are the attitudes of the perpetrators, transformation of gender norm is needed in which men can respect women and their rights irrespective of what they are wearing,” said the organisation in a statement.

“The proposed solutions must not be skewed towards putting the blame on women. Having a dress code is tantamount to direct indictment that women are being sexually harassed because of the clothes they wear.

“There is limited correlation on the two as societies have witnessed that even women who dress in the so-called modesty and decent ways are sexually harassed, while others become victims of rape while dressed in long skirts and dresses.”

The uproar arose after ZGC legal and investigations manager Ms Delis Mazambani is alleged to have said: “During the weekend, the students can then wear whatever they want, but when attending lectures, they need to be guided on how to dress and this makes it easier for lecturers to pinpoint that according to the university’s policy you are not dressed appropriately.”

Following media backlash, ZGC through its chairperson Margret Mukahanana said the message was blown out of proportion, as one of their officials only made reference to the uniform issue as an example during a public lecture with a local university.

“The commission’s series of sexual harassment at tertiary institutions continues this morning (yesterday) at ZOU,” she said in a statement. “Our previous engagements with such institutions have been very successful.

“We look forward to get another progressive meeting with students and staff at ZOU.”

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