I feel ashamed to be writing this piece in 2016—and this is because when I was at Adisadel College somewhere in 2002, I wrote a debate winning article in the then Junior Graphic, arguing the same point, that it would be a slap in the face of liberalism for the government or any public institution to unjustifiably dictate a code of dressing for the adult citizenry.
Fourteen years down the line and the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), buried in structural and learning facilities delinquencies is concerned with telling adult students what to wear and what not to wear—a practice that shakes the core pillars of liberalism.
The right to wear mini-skirts protests and fights were held in the 1960s–but we are fighting this in Ghana today, a clear indication as to how far behind we are on the spectrum of progress.
Pathetically, certain regressive liberals who lack ‘enlightened’ understanding of the discourse are in full support of the oppressive rule, arguably instituted to control what the adult female students of GIJ can wear.
At the core of contemporary and even classical liberalism is liberty; freedom to be different including being wild and freedom to do whatever unless prohibited by law.
Any 21st century democracy that seeks to uniquely control the liberty of its people, cut away from the global developments of the bigger liberal market is truly not a liberal state or one aspiring to become one.
It’s absurd for anyone to want to limit the personal choice of adults when it comes to what to wear. Mostly championed by gray hair conservatives and founded on the weak subjective concept of morality, people’s way of expressing themselves in our part of the world are usually boxed in some sort of generation gap offensiveness, to the extent that a ban has been put in place at the GIJ.
The Rector of GIJ, Dr. Wilberforce Sefakor Dzisah is reported as having said: “Management has raised concerns about an increase in indecent dressing by students. Management has therefore decided on the following and this should not only go to fresh men and women but for the continuing students as well. No shorts or miniskirts are to be worn for lectures. Clothes which expose your vital parts shall not be entertained.”
A quick examination of Sefakor Dzisah’s statement equips it with a legitimate aim of wanting to curb general indecent exposure. But that’s not true—because indecent exposure is already a criminal offence in Ghana just as in many other liberal jurisdictions and we do not need any other institutional level ban again to be able to enforce it.
What the GIJ is seeking to do is to lower the bar, and catch mini-skirts and shorts with their new ‘rule’ contrary to what the law of the land would actually regard as a violation of the existing indecent exposure law.
Any institution, person or culture that has achieved political modernity wouldn’t tolerate a mini-skirt or shorts ban. As Professor- Manuela Picq, a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton captures it: “Dress is one of the ways women use to practice politics whether in the form of the veil, the pollera, or the miniskirt. In fact, dress is the façade of deeper political struggles.” And any arbitrary restriction on dressing is an unjustifiable interference with the freedom of individuals to express themselves.
What’s the difference between the GIJ’s ban and the widely condemned oppressive Ugandan ‘mini skirt law’ that prevents women from revealing their thighs, breasts and buttocks?
I have had majority of my adult education in United Kingdom, one of the current hallmarks of modern liberalism, and having attended three separate Law Schools where global lawyers are trained, nowhere has the issue of how low or tall students should dress ever been of any authority’s headache.
If anything at all, the struggles in this department are mostly to do with stagnant medieval religious and cultural dress codes clashing with contemporary liberal values. Often, it’s religion and culture demanding that people should not dress a certain way, against the liberial constitutional leeway they enjoy.
During my undergraduate Law studies in London, almost half of my female mates had some sort of mini-skirt obsession and even in winter, they would rock their mini-skirts and have their thighs below. My concern at the time was; don’t they get cold?
Beyond that, it was not my problem or that of the institution as to what adult students wear for lectures—provided they are not breaching the indecent exposure laws of the land.
A friend from Barbados usually stood out with her mini-skirts as they were slightly provocative. Today, she is pursuing her PhD in law in Sweden—perhaps, still wearing her mini-skirts.
What has what another adult wears for class got to do with knowledge acquisition or proper training?
If a profession has a dress code in place, until a person is in that profession, he or she should not be mandated to adhere to the dress code. Of course, the person can be encouraged to consider early adherence. But it should not be imposed or any sort of ban. Journalists and Communicators do not have a strict professional dress code anywhere in the world and in fact, I have met excellent journalists writing for the BBC, USToday, MailOnline and other global media houses rocking shorts and mini-skirts.
It’s wrong for anyone to conclude that by virtue of being a student, a person forfeits all other constitutional rights or lacks the sense to hold personal identity or political expressions. These things influence people’s way of dressing.
The lame cultural and moral arguments have no place in a democracy—let alone to be given any sort of institutional backing, because, there’s no consensus on any sort of Ghanaian morality or culture. If anything at all, our sort of weather demands that shorts and mini-skirts should be encouraged. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it’s for a student to wear
If anything at all, our sort of weather demands that shorts and mini-skirts or dresses should be widely encouraged. Can you imagine the discomfort students go through, wearing long sleeves, trousers and as would be commended a tie or suit in a hot GIJ classroom that has no air-condition.
People should be encouraged to wear whatever they are comfortable in, especially students, as long as it’s not prohibited by law—for it’s a form of individual political and identity expression.
In 2015, a Tunisian rights’ group called on women to join a protest against the “repression of women in the Muslim world by demonstrating in mini skirts.”
The same year saw several men wearing mini-skirts in Turkey to join the fight for women’s rights. The relationship between mini-skirts and repression of women or liberalism is vividly out there for all of us to see.
If indeed how people dress has a solid and valid impact on general estimation of them as mischievously argued by moralists pitifully disguised as dress controllers, then there would have been a global move by all leading institutions to enforce a dress code.
From campuses in Amsterdam to New York via Tokyo and London, students are regarded as human beings, subjected to the laws of the land and at liberty to wear mini skirts or shorts. That’s liberalisms at work. Therefore any so-called liberal who rejects this value ought to re-examine his or her position on the philosophical landscape of accepted ideas.
What’s next for GIJ? Students shouldn’t wear red lipsticks, sandals or weaves?