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Uganda Public Workers Resist New Dress Code


FILE - Women protest against dress code legislation, Feb. 26, 2014, in Kampala, Uganda. This week, the country's goverment introduced a new dress code for civil servants. (AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel NEGA)

Ugandans are reacting to new clothing requirements for government employees.

Women in a government job are no longer permitted to wear a short skirt or large earrings. And male civil servants must wear a jacket and necktie in the office.

The Ministry of Public Service released the requirements on “decent dressing” last week. The new rules have angered some civil servants.

Women activists say the rules get Ugandans thinking about things other than the real issues facing the country. Perry Aritua is head of the Women’s Democracy Network.

“When a girl is dressed a certain way, that doesn’t mean she’s calling for your attention. Let us focus on the real issues that Ugandans are grappling with -- the theft of our public resources, the inefficiency in service delivery, the absenteeism in public service, the capacity needs that public service has.”

The directive bars female public employees from wearing tight clothing, open-toed shoes and skirts or dresses above the knees. Bright-colored nail polish, hair extensions and “exaggerated make-up” are also on the banned list.

Male public servants must wear dark pants but they cannot be too tight around the legs. And men may only wear closed-toe black or brown shoes.

Adah Muwanga is the human resource manager at the Ministry of Public Service.

“People in Uganda have a perception of what a public officer should look like and this is the image we are trying to protect and preserve. We are saying not above the knee, and for one reason, above the knee you know what it means, it can also [be] tantamount to sexual harassment, because when you sit you are exposing your thighs, which is not generally accepted and it can distract others from work.”

Rights groups say earlier guidance to civil servants was enough. A 2010 public order required clothing to be neat and practical for one’s job.

Ugandans have written to local newspapers about the new rules. One lawyer noted that “rights aren’t taken away overnight. They are taken away in small bits.”

A reporter working for VOA spoke to a government employee who did not want to tell her name.

“Me I think, my bright nails cannot distract someone, so the government should not discuss about that.”

The punishments for disobeying the new rules are unclear. The order said violations would be reported to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Service.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Halima Athumani reported this story from Kampala for VOANews.com. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

grapple – v. to try to solve a problem; to deal with a problem (usually + with)

inefficiency – n. the lack of ability to do something or produce something without wasting materials, time, or energy; the quality or state of being inefficient

capacity – n. the ability to do something; a mental, emotional or physical ability

exaggerate – v. to make (something) larger or greater than normal

perception – n. the way you think about or understand someone or something

thigh – n. the part of your leg that is above the knee

distract – v. to cause (someone) to stop thinking about or paying attention to someone or something and to think about or pay attention to someone or something else instead

bit – n. small steps or amounts

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