Of all the things one expected to hear announced at the Ghana Institute of Journalism’s matriculation, a ban on mini skirts and shorts was not on the list. In 2016, one expected to hear the importance of independent thought, voracious reading and rigorous research reiterated at the ceremony.
But speaking at the matriculation ceremony for the 2016/2017 group of new students the Rector of GIJ, Dr Wilberforce Dzisah announced the ban saying: “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.”
One is shocked by the announcement but not completely surprised by it. GIJ is joining a long list of Ghanaian institutions using Victorian ideas of propriety to control women’s bodies for men. Here is my theory. I don’t believe that the school authorities meant to ban shorts for men. I think it was added to make the idiotic ban seem fair. I believe what the school truly wanted to ban was miniskirts and whatever else the school administration deems indecent for women to wear.
A statement issued by the Women’s Commissioner of GIJ Suriaya Gomda, confirmed my theory: “As the Women’s Commissioner of GIJ, my take on the ban of mini skirts on campus by management is not out of place. GIJ is a professional school, and a noble institution for that matter; and ladies should dress accordingly. Ladies on campus should respect the presence of male lecturers and their colleague-males. Let us not pretend that as ladies, our sense of fashion have resounding impact on them. Students who are aspiring to be professionals should allow themselves to be groomed by existing structures, conventions and situational laws.”
The contents of Suriaya Gomda’s statement is the reason GIJ’s management should not be focusing on what students wear to classes but rather teach them logical reasoning, and of course, how to write coherent statements. Her incomprehensible statement aside, Suriaya Gomda shines more light on the mindset behind the clothes ban. The ban was made for men.
This ban is someone in management’s paternalistic plan to protect women students from all kinds of sexual harassment, rape, unsolicited touching and groping and sexual violence. But male students and lecturers are not dogs. They are human beings equipped with self-control. If women’s clothes have ‘resounding impact’ on them, they can look away. They should not be policing women’s bodies or clothes for men on campus. If anything, management should be introducing sexual harassment laws and creating safe spaces for women and men students to reports cases of sexual violations.
The problem with this ban isn’t that it is sexist, and very, very stupid but that instead concerning itself with what is needed to train journalists who tell compelling stories and speak truth to power, the GIJ management is focused on the clothes of students. Editors across the country will testify to the syntax/grammar/simple subject-verb agreement challenges of GIJ graduates. Because while there are some GIJ graduates who do impressive and excellent work, there are many who were failed by the teachers who taught them. The students need the management to make sure lecturers show up and teach. Students will be better served by management if they ensured lessons are not only theoretical as a former graduate wrote in this essay.
This arbitrary ban is just daft. It sexualizes women students and strips them of their right to self-expression through their clothes. What length of skirt will be considered appropriate and by whom? How does one determine what is short as the same length of skirts will look different on different body shapes and sizes? What does the university deem as vital body parts? The bum, breasts, or legs? How do they plan to enforce this ban?
GIJ is a university or aspiring to be one. There are no secular universities in the world that have a dress code for women. Even if the management found the way students dressed concerning, there are better ways to ensure ‘decency.’ But the ban in its current form is dangerous. It places the burden of control on the women and makes them responsible for the behavior of male students and teachers. This will make it hard for women to report sexual harassment cases in an environment where men feel entitled to their bodies.