See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Two Mozambican Universities Want to Ban Short Skirts and Dreadlocks

Women watch a video presentation at the Eduardo Mondlane University's School of Communication and Arts in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2012. Photo by Flickr user cassimano. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Two public Mozambican universities in the city of Beira sparked heated debate on social media when they announced a new dress code for their students and teachers.

The list of banned attire and hairstyles for men includes long hair, braids, dreadlocks, and shorts. For the women, it is now prohibited to wear short skirts, tight trousers, see-through material, and “blouses which show the bra”. Flip-flops are banned for both sexes.

The communique of UniZambeze, dated 28 March, was photographed and shared on Twitter by Human Rights Watch researcher for Mozambique, Zenaida Machado.

The University for Teaching (Universidade Pedagógica in Portuguese) reportedly shared a similar dress code, which was similarly photographed and shared on Twitter, but theirs added prohibitions on cigarettes and beer:

The University of Teaching in Beira has published a list of items prohibited on university campus

It is not the first time that this type of debate has happened in Mozambique. In March last year, the Ministry for Education and Human Development approved a resolution which prohibits short skirts in public secondary schools. The decision caused protests in the capital Maputo and provoked diplomatic tensions with Spain when a Spanish activist was arrested at a demonstration and subsequently deported by the authorities.

Like last time, many took to social media to express their discontent with the decision.

Mauro Steinmay, an artist who wears long hair, argued that in the case of universities the students are not children, and that they must not accept this type of imposition:

Acho que não temos de nos bater cabeça com essas universidades que querem banir dreads e sei lá o quê mais. Se os estudantes seguirem essas regras, é porque não tem tomates para fazerem valer seus direitos humanos, e merecem a universidade onde estudam. É problema deles. Não estudam crianças nas universidades.

I think that we don't have to worry about these universities that want to ban dreads and I don’t know what else. If the students follow these rules, it is because they don’t have the balls to assert their human rights, and they deserve the university where they study. It is their problem. There are no children studying at the universities.

In a widely shared post, researcher Benedito Memidji argued that the dress codes go back to the socialist government of the Cold War period. His post, shared by journalist Rafael Ricardo Machaela, discussed similar episodes in 1979, which he became aware of while searching the national archives. This included a speech by then-President Samora Machel condemning short skirts and “exhort[ing] the people to combat these fashions”:

A decisão da UP de impor regras de indumentária no campus – bem como as chamadas maxi-saias das escolas primárias e secundárias – tem origem no moralismo puritano que caracterizou a experiência socialista em Moçambique. Nessa altura atingiu proporções aberrantes. As normas da UP podem não reproduzir os efeitos que tal puritanismo produziu há 30 anos, mas é preciso estarmos alerta. Foi muito alto o preço que muita gente pagou devido a estas tentativas do estado domesticar a forma como as pessoas se vestem ou deixam de se vestir. Não sou a favor da indecência, mas sou amante da liberdade acima de tudo.

University for Teaching's decision to impose clothing rules on campus – as well as the so-called maxi-skirts in primary and secondary schools – has its origin in the moral puritanism that characterized the socialist experience in Mozambique. At that time it reached aberrant proportions. University for Teaching’s rules cannot reproduce the effects that such puritanism had 30 years ago, but we need to be alert. Many paid a high price due to these attempts by the state to control the way people do or do not dress. I am not in favour of indecency, but I love freedom above all.

Titos Cau gave a contrasting vision, emphasizing that the University of Teaching’s decision is based in cultural traditions and should be supported:

Daquilo que sei, a necessidade de regras de indumentaria baseia-se nas tradições culturais, espirituais e cosmológicas africanas e não experiência socialista pós-independência. Na nossa tradição o joelho da mulher e sagrado e não deve estar exposto publicamente. O rigor na indumentaria e importante porque ela ‘diz’ quem somos. A indumentaria e a extensão do carne que veste nosso espírito. O reitor da UP está certo e deve ser apoiado…

From what I know, the necessity of clothing rules is based in African cultural, spiritual, and cosmological traditions, not the post-independence socialist experience. In our tradition the woman’s knee is sacred and should not be publicly exposed. Rigour in clothing is important because it “says” who we are. Clothing is the extension of the flesh that our spirit wears. The University of Teaching’s chancellor is correct and should be supported…

Fatima Mimbire is a researcher for the Centre of Public Integrity, a local anti-corruption advocacy group, and opposes the rules:

É lá onde dizem que a universidade é lugar de democracia. É o lugar de discussão de ideias por excelência… quando começamos a preocupar-nos com a forma como as pessoas vestem, sinceramente, acho que perdemos o foco ou não temos mais nada importante com que nos preocuparmos. O nosso pais esta a afundar porque os “iluminados” esforçam-se para tirar a pouca luz que temos. Honestamente, precisamos de uma nova ordem.

This is where they say that university is the place for democracy. It is the place for discussion of ideas par excellence… when we start to worry about the way people dress, sincerely, I think that we are losing focus or we have nothing more important to worry about. Our country is sinking because of the “enlightened” strive to take away the little light we have. Honestly, we need a new system.

Bitone Viage, a lecturer currently studying political science in Brazil, raised some questions about these measures:

[…] Obviamente que a Universidade pedagógica (UP) enquanto que instituição de formação de professores deve fazer com que os tanto os formandos bem como os formados nesta instituição pautem por uma conduta moral e esteticamente aceite dentro da nossa sociedade.

Mas a questão que não se cala Magnifico, do que valerá a decência sem a produção e inclusão? Do que valerá termos um professor bem vestido, mas mesmo assim a taxa da má qualidade do ensino no pais tende aumentar?

[…] Obviously the University of Teaching (UP), as an institution that trains teachers, must ensure that the trainees as well as the trained in this institution guide themselves by a morally and aesthetically accepted conduct in our society.

But the question that will not be silenced is, what will decency be worth without production and inclusion? What will it be worth having a well-dressed teacher, while the prevalence of bad quality teaching tends to rise anyway?

Reacting to the topic, Edson Agostinho Sangue Sangue saw university as a place where many cultural realities converge, and where there should be no such imposition of norms:

Quando a pessoa entra para o ensino superior ela e vista como uma pessoa que já tem certeza que suas atitudes irão em breve trazer consequências seja estas negativas ou positivas. Uma universidade de facto um mar de culturas misturadas cada um que para la vai tem sua educação seus princípios sua cultura suas tradições. Uma universidade e um campo que forma mentes pensantes, inteligentes, e uma das características de pessoas inteligentes e a forma como trata o próximo independentemente da sua aparência ou forma de estar. Pessoas inteligentes não discriminam….

When a person enters higher education they are seen as a person who is already sure that their attitudes are quickly going to bring consequences, be they negative or positive. A university is in fact a sea of mixed cultures, and each one will have its education, its principles, its culture, its traditions. A university is a field that shapes thinking, intelligent minds, and one of the characteristics of intelligent people is the way that you treat others irrespective of their appearance or way of being. Intelligent people do not discriminate…

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site