It all started on July 30 with a photo of a scantly dressed young female attending a concert of French-Cameroonian singer TayC at BK Arena, going viral on social media, sending tongues wagging with her choice of dress.
The young woman, who was later reported to be a socialite and popular video vixen, wore a see through jumpsuit made out of a net that left nothing to imagination. To cover her modesty, she wore a black thong inside and a black open jacket on top which left her full chest almost exposed. For a week or so, the photo was the talk of the town.
Local media went on to share more photos of concert goers mainly focusing on the dress code, particularly of young women and girls wearing revealing clothes. As the photos made rounds on social media, opinion was divided, a debate was opened.
For some, particularly the conservative ones, the situation was bordering on indecency while for the liberal ones there is nothing unusual -just women exercising their right to wear whatever they want.
However, over the weekend, the conversation took a different turn when the Spokesperson of Rwanda National Police, CP John Bosco Kabera, while appearing on Rwanda Television (RTV) on Friday, emphasized the need for a decent dress code especially among the young people attending concerts.
The usually tough talking police publicist, this time flashing a smile, did not stop there. He added that concert organisers need to start asking for IDs especially from young people to ascertain their age and identity before they could enter the venue or be allowed to buy alcohol.
“The issue is somewhat going to another level. Someone puts on a shirt alone, a shirt which they should be wearing on trousers or shorts, and goes out. Just a shirt. I don’t know what kind of fashion that is. Some wear only the shirt even when they are pregnant and they go out in public,”
“A person wears just a net and goes out in public,” CP Kabera said as the journalist interrupted and asked if people don’t have the right to wear whatever they want.
“I believe the first right is to be decent. Having a right doesn’t mean dressing up indecently or inappropriately,” the Police Spokesperson said, in a manner that indicated that it was his personal opinion. He added that ideally, everyone should be dressing up decently, young or old.
He said public indecency is not just inappropriate, it also goes against the cultural values of Rwandans, adding that police cannot watch on as the situation deteriorates.
Apart from ‘indecent dressing’, Kabera said another common behaviour they are observing a lot is public intoxication, which also amounts to a misdemeanor, something he said many people don’t know.
The clip on the dress code sparked a huge debate when it was posted online, with women particularly getting up in arms against the police official, accusing him of attempting to police what women should wear or not.
In a subsequent video also shared on social media on Saturday, the Minister of Local Government, Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi, backed the Police Spokesperson, saying that indecent dressing among young people has become a serious challenge and parents need to have a hand in guiding their children on how to dress decently.
“If your child is almost naked and you don’t do anything about it as a parent, it becomes a challenge. You need to talk to them and teach them our cultural values. We have a culture, whether you advance and travel to America, you have national values to respect,”
Minisitiri w'Ubutegetsi bw'Igihugu, @gatjmv aravuga ko ababyeyi bakwiye kugira uruhare mu kugabanya ubukana bw'ikibazo cy'imyitwarire ya rumwe mu rubyiruko ishingiye ku businzi no kwambara impenure, n'indi myenda igaragaza cyane bimwe mu bice by'umubiri. #RBAAmakuru pic.twitter.com/DOm3gdcdVQ
— Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) (@rbarwanda) August 13, 2022
“There are certain things that give you value in the community. You can achieve whatever you want to achieve or do whatever you want to do with decency. You don’t have to be naked to do that,” Minister Gatabazi said, also seemingly expressing his personal views.
However, the situation took a different turn on Friday when female revelers were reportedly denied access to a concert in which Ugandan singer Sheebah Karungi was performing at Canal Olympia, on grounds of indecency.
At first i thought it was just an opinion, but last night girls were sent back home at the concert ??♂️??♂️ !! what about Fashion events ?? #Birababaje
— Bruceintore (@BruceIntore) August 14, 2022
Girls are being bounced at the entrance of a concert coz of a dress code….. Really? Rwanda Police, i know your job is to serve and protect but that's denying women their rights.
— Klepy ? (@KlepyDaGreat) August 13, 2022
The development sparked fury on social media, with many saying that the government was focusing on non-issues while there are many issues to deal with such as teenage pregnancies, sexual and domestic violence and other socio-economic issues which are more pressing than what women should wear or not.
Others said the remarks by officials will encourage sexual abuse and harassment, including rape, under the guise of indecency. The debate also came at a time when Anglican Church called on the government to enforce a decent dress code among young people, as part of efforts to combat teenage pregnancies.
The stance of the church also angered women rights activist who accused it of missing the point.
However, others have come to the defence of the government and those calling for a decent dress code, pointing out that it was about time the government did something on what they say is excess freedom of choice of what to wear, before the situation could get out of hand.
Some organisations like CLADHO, the Umbrella of Human Rights Organizations in Rwanda, have also come to the defence of the government, saying that it is the duty of leaders to entrench decency among the youth.
“What the Minister is saying is true because what is clear today is that the protective wall built around children by their parents is broken or no longer existent, which is the main cause of some of the challenges young people are facing today, including teenage pregnancies and many more,” the organization tweeted, angering women rights activists.
Vocal feminist and women rights advocate Sylvie Nsanga, said that it is very wrong for a human rights organisation to support the idea of justifying child defilement in the country solely based on what girls wear.
“I can’t believe [you] can be a rape apologist [to] this extent. We are a growing a society of sexists & rape apologists who can get a justification for the high number of teen pregnancy on basis of girl dress. I am so disappointed,” said Nsanga, calling on the Ministers of Gender and Youth and Culture to put an end to growing sexism in the name of culture and morality.
Several Twitter spaces on the matter have been held on the issue while others have raised their voice through social media platforms. Below are some of the tweets;
The fact that people would pour energy into talking about how we dress , yet we have thousands of young women being impregnated & no one seems to be addressing it.
It is an unfortunate day when i begin loosing hope in the 61% supposedly advocating for us
— Zuba ? (@zubamutesi) August 14, 2022
I never saw this coming! Maybe I was wrong! In Rwanda, in 2022, women dressing is a government’s issue?
I still can’t believe it! ?????
— Alice Kanyana ?? (@alice_kanyana) August 14, 2022
#RwOT I do not know how y’all are doing but I am so disappointed at the fact that we just took 50 steps back to protecting women. Policing what women wear is so 1950 and has never worked! Harrassing women just went up. Raping women just went up. Abusing women just went up.
— Sherry Uwase (@SherryUwase) August 14, 2022
It's important to understand that the freedom to clothing isn't about the amount of clothes you put on or take off, it's rather having the choice to do so. Those who invoke culture, didn't we agree to uphold cultural norms that don't infringe the protected rights?
— Rugundana (@Rugundana_) August 14, 2022
And our dear Bayibozi are concerned about the length of our dresses. Ubu ko Eastern province ihora imbere mu mibare for the past 5 years, niho haba abakobwa bambara amakanzu magufi cyane? Please cut the bullshit and focus on the real issue here! ?? https://t.co/IYxyUbvd2b
— Fiona Kamikazi Rutagengwa (@Fiona_Kamikazi) August 14, 2022