Is Dressing No Longer a Human Right?

Author Godfrey Chitalu

FOR ten years, I went to a classical Pentecostal church in the heart of Lusaka city that respected the congregants right to respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.

Having come from a ‘village’ background where vitenge and oversized suits, were deemed Godly, tight jeans and slim fits, became a distraction. With time I accepted the teaching that imposing a dress code on church members and adherents was a bridge too far.

Modesty, self-regulation and peer pressure helped members to introspect and dress as they wished but without going overboard.

The lessons I learnt at that church has left an impression. When you don’t impose dressing, people end up dressing appropriately. I was therefore taken aback when I read a hastily prepared press release that one popular private university in our country has decided to impose a dress code for its students. My quick thoughts are that this is a disaster in waiting. Although, the university has every right to impose a dress code on its students, unfortunately it won’t have enough monitors to enforce this new regulation.

Like my church, the wisdom of its leadership lay in the fact that every congregant has faculties to decide how best to dress. In the olden days, I loved my stone wash jeans but my church by that time considered it anathema. Of course I have grown in faith to know that we were misled. Does the university that has imposed the dress code, want to learn from its mistake? What then should we do about this university, which might be misleading its students?

By the way, I’m not a cleavage crazy writer! I know that university students’ world over love their rights, including the right to dress according to their wishes. Has this university forgotten that its students are adults capable of making sane dress decisions? Why would an entire university administration want to regulate dressing for adults?

What measuring tape would be employed on inappropriate cleavage and skimpy dresses? Is a skirt above the knees of a long legged lady equivalent to the those with shorter thighs? There is a difference between bad behavior and bad dressing.

The former can be regulated but for the latter it is a dicey affair. Why impose dress rules to students who have to pay through their noses for their education. My sons who went to universities abroad always talk about how they would attend lectures in shorts, if they felt like.

Although I don’t take kindly to adults in sagging pants, with visible underwear, a university student surely should not be told what to wear. Let the leadership of students be seen from their dressing without imposing rules. As for banning regalia with political messages, the university has again missed the point. I’m of the view that individual’s rights to associate with political parties of their choices should be respected. Intellectuals have a tendency of printing political and related message on their T-shirts to make a point. Would authorities throw out a student who came to school with a Che Guevera or a Mandela T-shirt? Is the ban only on Zambian political party T-shirts and Vitenje? This is warped thinking – politics cannot be localized

Students, apart from being adults are unique individuals that cannot be told that a vest is not appropriate in class. Our country sometimes has extreme hot weather that would make vests and related clothes appropriate in class. My advice to this university is to go ahead and have uniform dressing. How about checked shirts, trousers and skirts, flat black shoes and white socks so that there is no difference between rich and poor!

The university adminstrators must know that they are not entitled to arbitrarily regulation of dressing for their students. I find it particularly worrying that ripped jeans, which is popular with university students is also put on the prohibition list.

Is this dress code necessary and appropriate? Does it have a hidden agenda? Since under international law we all have a right to freedom of expression including what to wear, can we say this university has abrogated this sacred law?  

The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.

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