22 January 2013

Namibia: The Fight Over the Mini

Photo: DuncanCV/Flickr
(file photo)

THE recent report of police in Rundu arresting Namibian citizens because of the clothing they were wearing is hugely disturbing. These women were wearing miniskirts that the police in that area decided were 'too' short. The report further quotes the parents of these citizens agreeing with the arrests of their children because of the clothing they were wearing. In addition, the local police were quoted stating their commitment to continuing these arrests.

Shockingly, there was a very ignorant statement in this same report, made by one of the parents. It stated that rape was a result of women wearing suggestive clothing. The first point that must be made loud and clear: Rape is rape; it is a crime of violence and control. It has nothing to do with the clothing the victim wears. A rapist will do so whether his intended victim is wearing a miniskirt, a one-piece swimsuit, a nun's habit or a burka or hijab. We must know the utter violation of rape for what it is and stop making excuses for the criminals who do it.

Second major point - each of us reading that article should be alert. Something important has happened in Rundu and if we don't respond, we could all go happily down a slippery slope to regional fiefdoms with warlords making their own laws or a breakdown of sovereign law.

Question: Is Namibia a unitary state governed by one constitution that applies to all citizens or is law based only in what individuals or selected communities decide it is?

A wannabe king in Rundu, or else someone with good intentions but ignorance of the law, made a decision to act outside of the Namibian Constitution. This person decided to make the entire police force in Rundu complicit in this crime and use them to kidnap citizens. These individuals decided that women wearing skirts that are 'too short' should be deprived of their constitutional right to freedom from unlawful arrest.

No matter what your individual view of the miniskirt is, this Wild-West, make-your-own-laws action must be condemned and stopped immediately. There should be no lingering doubts about who is in charge in all parts of Namibia. Rundu bans miniskirts; next, will some other city ban select religious practices, certain music, freedom of speech, the free press, freedom of association, freedom of movement, or an independent judiciary?

Am I being dramatic? Yes! Attacks on our Constitution's validity and strength never come in broad daylight through obviously offensive frontal assaults. Rather, such attacks come as a thief in the night; slowly creeping up behind us, using 'reasonable' words and 'acceptable' actions, but the end result is that our rights would have been stolen just the same.

There is no law in Namibia that proscribes what length a skirt must be before arrest and prosecution is mandated. Did these young ladies appear before a magistrate where charges were read out?

Have we all forgotten history? How long ago did some in leadership in our society seek laws to ban certain music (the blues, jazz, soul, rock-and-roll) which they did not approve of, but younger generations did? Now, those very music types are mainstream, acceptable and enjoyed by all.

Is it not a part of Namibian history that in brutal colonial times, whites dictated what the black 'natives' could wear? Isn't the traditional Herero dress an outgrowth of that history?

As a mother, I raised young girls to womanhood and I still work with many nieces about self-respect and making good choices. Wearing suggestive clothing, drinking too much alcohol, smoking weed or doing other drugs, dancing suggestively, speaking disrespectfully, staying out too late at night or other behavior comes as we raise our teenage daughters (and sons!). It is not easy to battle peer pressure and the media image of what is or is not "cool."

But that struggle belongs in the home, not in the police station. Parents looking for state instruments (like police forces or schools) to raise their kids are looking in the wrong place. A child choosing to wear clothing similar to a sex worker speaks volumes about what has gone on in that child's life up to that point.

Have you watched music video channels with your teenagers? Have you seen the magazines and the clothing choices of the models in the photos? Who buys your children's clothes anyway? When was the last relaxed conversation or fun activity you have had with your teenage children? It is amazing how many parents who didn't take the time to set limits, give love and consistent positive attention to their children when they were six, want to get the police or teachers to come into the scene to 'fix' things when the child is 16.

GRN! You need to respond to any local authority who acts outside the law. Today it is miniskirts in Rundu; what's next tomorrow: arrests of anyone wearing Swapo-coloured shirts?

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