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Dress Code Aims to Prevent Sexual Violence at Cameroon University

Global Press Institute - Mon, 9 Jan 2012 10:00 GMT
Author: Global Press Institute
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BUEA, CAMEROON - Ludwig Metuge, director of student affairs at the University of Buea in southwestern Cameroon, says that campus authorities have been sending students home in the past year for behavior he calls alarming. He says students are wearing inappropriate clothing, such as lingerie, to class. "There are some sexy dresses that a woman would normally wear indoors to entice the husband or partner," he says. "Such indoor dresses when worn outdoors into the university becomes abnormal, and this is what some students of the University of Buea are doing." Metuge, who is also a lecturer in the English department, says that female students are the main culprits that have caused university authorities to become stricter about enforcing the campus dress code. "Indecent dressing among University of Buea students, female students especially, is a very serious issue," he says. Metuge says it's easier to define decent dressing than indecent dressing. "Female students' dresses should be at knee-level and not [above]," he says. "Dresses should not be transparent. They should put on breast wears â&${esc.hash}128;¦ Dresses should cover all sensitive parts, like breasts, lower belly, waists, buttocks and, of course, thigh[s]. Trousers should not be too tight and very short." Metuge says that boys should also dress in a way that respects their minds and reflects their self-esteem. "Boys should wear trousers properly," he says. He says that male students shouldn't wear pants below their hips or informal pants meant for relaxing at home. As for shirts, he says that male students shouldn't expose their chests. "They should button up their shirts properly," he says. Authorities don't send male students home for having dreadlocks and wearing earrings. But Metuge says these students are portraying themselves negatively, and people view them as rascals. He admits that fashion is as dynamic as culture itself, to the extent that it's almost impossible to change the mindset of young people when it comes to clothing. But he says that some students are wearing outfits in the wrong settings, which could lead to heightened sexual violence on campus. As the University of Buea administration becomes stricter about implementing its dress code, some students say campus security has embarrassed them and violated their personal freedom by sending them home because of their clothing. Other students say the increased enforcement of the dress code is necessary to prevent their peers from wearing clothing on campus meant for going to clubs or to bed. Campus security officials say they have resumed dress checks, which sometimes draws insults and abuse from the students they send home. Linking indecent clothing and sexual violence, staff members say the dress code is crucial for campus safety. But lawyers dismiss this link and say school authorities can't punish students for legal behavior. School authorities encourage faculty and staff to educate students about proper clothing in a friendly and nonaggressive manner and students and campus police to resolve issues of disrespect. The University of Buea has had a dress code since its inception, leading many to nickname it "Government High School Buea." In recent years, the university relaxed the campus dress check. But with the emergence of new fashion trends thanks to globalization, the university administration decided last year to tighten enforcement of the dress code. Administrators, faculty, staff and campus police now send indecently dressed students home to change their clothing. Merci Kusi, 19, is in her second year in the department of journalism and mass communication at the University of Buea. She says that campus police asked her to leave campus in December 2011 to return home to change her clothing. Kusi says that some students do dress in an embarrassing way that exposes their bodies to the public, but she insists that she was decently dressed. "I wore a gown a little above my knee with stripes big enough to cover the stripes of my breast wear, and then the campus police claimed I was indecently dressed," she says. She also says that the campus police are rude in their approach to students whom they consider indecently dressed. "Campus police are very rude," she says. "They always shout at you." She says they tell students to get a taxi immediately and leave campus. "It is very embarrassing," she says. Vida Mosima, 23, a student studying English at the University of Buea, says she was also embarrassed when campus police denied her entrance to the campus on her first day of class because of her clothing. She says she was wearing a strapless top and a short skirt that was above her knee, which they said was too sexy. "I have never been so embarrassed and shocked in my whole life," she says. "I did not expect to be driven out of the university campus on grounds that I was not well-dressed. That was stupid." Excited to wear the new clothing she had purchased for university, Mosima says the dress code is unreasonable. She would have enrolled in another state university if she had known that University of Buea had a dress code. "It feels like I am still in boarding school," she says. "Being in the university, one is big enough to know what is good for him or her." Tabe Besong, a graduate of the University of Yaoundé I, one of Cameroon's state universities, says that people call the University of Buea a high school because of its dress code. "I would rather be in a free university than enroll in Government High School Buea," he says. He says that instituting a dress code in a university deprives students of their freedom. He says university students should dress the way they choose, not the way the administration tells them to. As for indecent dressing, he says that policing should be left to students' peers. "An indecently dressed student will be wooed at and disgraced on campus," he says. "As such, any reasonable student will not repeat such dressing. Myself, I used to [be] one of those who woo at indecently dressed students way back in University of Yaoundé I." But other University of Buea students say they support the dress code. Nji Kima, 20, is in his final year studying geology and environmental science. He says that some students dress on campus as if they had just left a nightclub. "The dressing of some students in UB is annoying and embarrassing," he says. He says one cause for the inappropriate clothing may be confusion about fashion from abroad. Laughing, he says that some students mistake nightgowns they receive from family and friends in the diaspora, such as in Europe and North America, as everyday clothing and wear them to class. He advises his peers to ask how to wear the clothing they receive before donning it on campus. Patricia Ngam, 24, is a master's student in the department of women and gender studies. Ngam describes the way some students dress on campus as "terrible." She says that inappropriately dressed students sexually harass lecturers with their scanty clothing. She says indecent dressing also promotes "sexually transmissible marks" - when students receive passing grades in classes for sleeping with their professors. Peter Geh, 38, has been a member of the campus police for more than 13 years. Sitting in for the chief of campus police, who granted him permission to speak on his behalf, Geh says it has been one of their job requirements to send home indecently dressed students. He says they stopped enforcing the code for a while because they did not have a common uniform for students to identify them by but resumed dress checks last year. "Most often, students did not take us seriously because we were dressed in our assorted dresses, and so we had no proof that we were campus police," he says. "Now that the university has given us a new uniform and upon the vice chancellor's call during 2011 matriculation for students to dress properly on campus, we decided to take up our duties effectively." Geh says that students are rude to police during dress checks, not the other way around. "Students minimize us," he says. "They don't have any respect for as campus police." He says that students lack respect for them because they feel that a campus police officer is not academically qualified to talk to them. Geh says that sometimes when they approach students about their clothing, students react by shouting, abusing them and resisting their orders. "A student will tell you, 'You are going to work and die as a security guard, illiterate,'" he says, his voice breaking. Authorities at the University of Buea say the dress code aims to discourage sexual violence on campus. Theresia Ebot, a guidance counselor in the university's department of admissions and records, says that indecent clothing makes students more susceptible to sexual violence. "When you dress scantily, you call for attention from the opposite sex," Ebot says. "This attention is tilted towards sex, which is a great cause of rape and sexual harassment these days." Nicoline Njah, a guidance counselor within the faculty of education, says young Cameroonians are deviating from African values when it comes to dress and sexuality. "They are going against societal norms, which are not part of our Cameroonian and African culture," she says. "We have been socialized to preserve our bodies for our husbands/partners alone. Exposing it to the public attracts only cheap people who will only admire you for a short while." Metuge says that there is a relationship between dress and vulnerability to rape and sexual harassment. "A rose as beautiful as it is, when it blossoms in the open, it attracts bees," he says. "But when you hide this same rose, bees will not find it to enjoy its nectar." Although there have been reports of rape on campus, none has been formally linked to indecent dressing. Still, authorities say victims of rape who are indecently dressed may be less likely to report the incident for fear of being blamed. But Valentine Nji, 39, a legal practitioner based in Buea, says clothing has nothing to do with rape or sexual harassment. "The concept of lecturers sleeping with students and rape will exist irrespective of how students dress," he says. "After all, there are registered cases of young babies who are raped, and this was not as a result of indecent dressing of these babies." Moreover, he says that making students leave campus on the grounds that they are indecently dressed is a violation of students' human rights and personal freedom. He says people have the right to wear the clothing they bought with their money, provided it does not constitute a criminal offense. "You cannot punish someone for something which is not criminalized," he says. "These cloth[e]s are sold in shops freely to whoever likes to purchase them. As such, individuals have absolute ownership over their property, unless it constitutes a criminal offense." He says that university students are old enough to decide for themselves what is good and bad for them. He says that if the university administration is so concerned about how students dress on campus, then it should introduce a uniform. But Metuge says he believes that indecent dressing can stop if all professors take a few minutes of their lectures to appeal to students to dress with decency and to calmly explain the reasoning behind the dress code. He says parents should also educate students about the benefits of decent dressing. Metuge has asked all staff members to talk to students about this nicely. Ebot says she has a duty as a staff member to approach indecently dressed students and talk to them in a calm and friendly manner about the dangers of exposing themselves. Both Ebot and Njah say the solution is to initiate these friendly and nonaggressive chats, not violence. Metuge says posting notices around campus to sensitize the students to the ills of indecent dressing can also raise awareness. He also proposes holding workshops and seminars with campus police and student representatives to resolve the issue of disrespect raised by both groups.

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