By Sharon Atieno Onyango
Published November 26, 2015
A woman dressed in a long, transparent, hip-hugging, panty-line-revealing orange skirt with a long slit running along both legs and a strapless low-cut blouse with a white scarf thrown over it, saunters into the auditorium.
As she walks between the aisles to take her seat at the front of the church near the pulpit, every eye of the already seated members of the congregation is on her. While some shake their heads and others gasp, others just whisper to the persons nearest to them.
I overhear one tell another “Huyu msichana hakupata nguo ya adabu ya kuvaa akitoka nyumbani?” (Didn’t she find any respectable dress to wear when she left home?).
The woman, now aware of the unwanted attention her dress and late-coming have stirred among the audience, literally runs to the next available seat, from which she frantically makes endless effort to cover up her breasts with a scarf.
“Women are kindly reminded to dress respectfully when coming to church,” the Church Secretary says during the time for Announcements and Notices.
But, perhaps unknown to the Secretary is that this appeal to women to dress decently is being made in offices, schools and other public places within the country. And across the continent. But why is it only women who seem to be at the centre of attention when it comes to dressing?
Men’s clothes are more or less the same all the time; they do not seem to change as fast and as often as those of women that seem to evolve almost daily. Women, as if obsessed with the desire to keep up with fashion and fads, tend to be very experimental. Some of these trendy clothes go beyond the line of decency.
It therefore goes without saying that the desire for novelty tends to put women in bad standing when it comes to the attire they wear.
In 2015, a college student in Zimbabwe was arrested and charged in court with indecent exposure; she was reported to have modelled in a beauty pageant without underwear.
“Women are considered the weaker sex, much like children in many cultures. The same way a parent would look at how their children dress is the same way society looks at women when it comes to dressing,” says Donald Onyango, a university student of Linguistic, Media and Communication.
“Women are the custodians of morals in our society and thus are expected to dress respectfully, as per the expectations of their cultures,” says Joseph Kimani, a student of Film and Media Studies at Moi University in western Kenya. “Women are supposed to set a good example to the younger generation.”
“Skimpy, transparent or body-exposing outfits are known to be the dress pattern of prostitutes,” Emma Nuel says in The African Woman and Indecent Dressing page on Facebook.
“A woman showing herself in an ‘immodest’ dress in public becomes just a sexual object in the eyes of many men,” says Abdelilah Boukili, a businessman who deals in clothing.