Protecting African Values from Western Decay? #MyDressMyChoice

Photo credit: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian

Photo credit: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian

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Our condolences to the family and friends of the late Homa Bay Senetor Otieno Kajwang. May his soul rest in peace. #RIPHonKajwang

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Kenyan social media has been abuzz with the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice, denoting a woman’s right to choose what to wear and not be harassed or harmed for her choices. This comes in the wake of two disgusting videos showing women being stripped in public first in Mombasa then at a high traffic bus stop in Nairobi, allegedly due to their “indecent” mode of dressing. Almost we forgot about the good pastor.

The videos have rightfully drawn the ire of most Kenyans, with public figures not hesitating to voice their opinions in support of the rights of both the women who were so publicly violated as well as Kenyan women in general. Names like Esther Passaris and others offered rewards for information leading to the successful capture of the goons involved, Inspector General Kimaoyo came out in support of justice, asking the women to come forward and lodge an official complaint and Deputy President Ruto called for the arrest and prosecution of those he correctly termed ‘sec pests’. Quoth the DP, “I don’t know where you people come from. How does a woman’s dressing affect you? Let people wear what they want,”, a sentiment some Kenyans would do well to internalize and live by.

Allow us to put aside the issue of faux Kenyan morality for a minute: make no mistake, this is not and can never be an excuse for the heinous indignity carried out on these women. Those arguing for the shameless people that stripped these women -and those that watched and did nothing to help her, opting instead to film the horrid scenes and rush to upload them online- are standing on the truly shaky ground of “protecting African values from Western decay”. Surely there is no one who can claim not to be aware of the traditional African dress-code these apologists are so vehemently defending. Our ancestors, as recently as the 1920s, walked their lands bedecked in decorative beads, headgear, loincloths and not much else. Even today, the traditional reed dance held by King Mswati features young women in traditional attire that should surely send these ‘moral’ Kenyans rushing to Swaziland to…what? Further strip the participants? Religious dogma similarly has no place in this debate: Kenya is a nation of many religions, and what you find decent may be the height of flagrant immorality to the next person. Depending the religion you belong in and the angle you view others notwithstanding. Furthermore, who writes the rules on what is decent? Has this ultimate guide been shared to all Kenyan women to ensure everyone knows what lines to cross? And who, pray tell, appointed the Grand Emperor of Morality that put together this chart?

Photo credit: @MyDressMyChoice/Twitter

Photo credit: @MyDressMyChoice/Twitter

“Morality” is subjective and prone to change; a poor foundation to base an argument that advocates the stripping of innocent Kenyan women. Furthermore, if the sight of bare skin so terribly offends you, why then show more by exposing this woman who you have deemed unfit in her manner of dressing? No, this debate should not and cannot be based on such ‘ideals’. Countless discussions have sprung up, including on mainstream media, focusing also on the equally important disregard for the rule of law. What has transpired is not only an act of inhumanity, it is also clearly assault that goes against the law. Does the Kenyan constituiton, penal code and armed forces not purport to protect all citizens from harm? If so, then where is the justice for these women and the others that walk in fear of being the next victim, denied the freedom to choose what they wear and lead their lives as they would wish to?

It is in the name of putting an end to this gender based violence occasioned by “indecent dress” that a peaceful protest was organized to help draw attention to this violation and get a message across: Kenyans, both women and men, stand in solidarity to support the victims of this brutality, and get the nation’s leaders to take this breach of women’s rights as seriously as it deserves to be treated. Naturally, the peaceful protesters could not go unmolested as idlers turned up to heckle and threaten the procession. In spite of this appaling and brazen disregard for the rights of the protesters and women in general, another protest march has been planned for November 24th, with hopes of inspiring the powers that be and yes, the common mwananchi, to do their part to stop violence against Kenya’s female population and treat every citizen, regardless of gender, with respect. Will you be among the number? Have a conscientious week, won’t you?

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