Why the strict Uganda dress code

Uganda in dress code controversy. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

If you are a Ugandan woman civil servant who is fond of wearing short skirts or dresses above knee-level, transparent blouses or dresses, clothes of shouting colours or which do not cover up the cleavage and navels, start thinking of a career elsewhere.

And if you are a man in love with open shoes, tightly fitting shirts or trousers, think twice if you still need a public service job.

The Public Service ministry has directed all permanent secretaries and chief administrative officers to enforce a strict dress code for public servants in their respective workplaces.

Ms Adah Muwanga, the ministry’s Director for Human Resource, said the policy was a response to public outcry over indecent dressing among government workers.

“We got complaints that some public officers are indecent. Some female officers are pumping up their breasts, wearing mini-skirts… You are sexually harassing the male counterparts and in Uganda this is not acceptable,” Ms Muwanga said Wednesday.

“We are mindful of the perception of the public to our officers. Do you feel okay when you have nails several metres long? It is not neat and healthy and we have to care about the health of public officers,” she added.

In a circular signed by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Ms Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwiire, all public officers are “required to dress decently; in generally acceptable standards in the Ugandan society”.

Ms Muwanga said the circular was operationalising section F-J of the Uganda Public Service Standing Orders 2010, which provide for the Dress Code in the public service.

Transparent blouses

The Orders state: “For the promotion and projection of a good image of the Public Service, a Public Officer shall at all times dress appropriately and appear decent and respectable in a way that is generally acceptable.”

Female workers, according to the ministry’s circular, “should avoid wearing sleeveless, transparent blouses and dresses at workplace and ensure that the clothing covers the cleavage, navels, knees and back”.

Female workers will not be allowed to appear for duty in open flat shoes except on doctor’s recommendation or medical grounds, wear bright coloured hair in form of natural hair, braids and hair extensions.

They may wear trousers, but those must be in “form of smart lady suits with jackets, long enough to cover the bosom”.

The ministry further directed female officers to wear modest accessories and to desist from tight-fitting dresses or shirts.

“Long nails more than three centimetres with bright polished nails or with multi-coloured polished nails are not allowed in public office,” reads part of the ministry’s circular, which also requires that facial makeup should be “simple and not exaggerated”.

On the other hand, the circular compels male public servants to wear neat trousers, long-sleeved shirts, jacket and a tie. Open shoes are prohibited under the new ministry’s dress code policy.

It is horrible

“Officers should dress in dark colours like dark-green or brown, navy-blue, grey or black suits. Hair should be well-groomed and generally kept short,” the circular reads.

Only black and brown shoes are permitted at the workplace and like their female counterparts, men are not allowed to wear tight-fitting trousers and shirts on duty.

A female public servant who preferred anonymity welcomed the ministry’s directive saying some officers had reached an indecent level of even “wearing leggings to office”.

“It is absurd. There are colleagues who wear leggings and when they sweat, it is horrible,” she observed.

However, Ms Ritah Achiro, the Executive Director of Uganda Women’s Network (Uwonet), protested the new dress code policy saying it was unjustified and offends women’s rights.

“Public Service should concentrate on things that are affecting the general public. How will decent dressing bring drugs to hospitals and teachers to schools?” Ms Achiro posed.

Social problem

“By the time someone gets a job in Public Service, they are exposed, have gone to school and can make decisions on their own,” she added.

The Executive Director of Family Life Network Uganda, Mr Stephen Langa, had a contrary view.

“Dressing is personal but it sends a message to the public. You cannot just let people dress the way they want when they cannot control themselves,” Mr Langa argued.

In 2013, Parliament passed the Anti-Pornography Bill 2011, a law that, among others, bans wearing of miniskirts in public.
The government argued that pornography had become such an “insidious social problem” in the country that it required a legislation to control it.

While some MPs claimed the Bill violated people’s rights, majority agreed with the government position and it was passed into law.

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