Mini-skirts in schools: Should the issue be politicised?

By Milicent Agutu

The debate of mini-skirts in Kenyan schools  is a hot debate. Reactions to the debate from different  stakeholders of the education system is varried. The debate has brought tension amongst the political class, students, parents and the religious leaders.

The mini-skirts debate surphased two weeks ago when more than 400  girls of Rwathia School boycotted classes demanding shorter and comfortable skirts. As trivial as the issue maybe, it has ignited a heated debate in Kenya. This debate changed its course when  the Kenyan Education Minister Hon Mutula Kilonzo backed the call by students on 16th July 2012 asking “Why are you dressing a school girl like a nun.” The minister’s statement was met by different reactions from Kenyans of all walks of life. These reactions continue dominating discussions on the social media, radio and television stations.

Opinion was divided on whether schoolgirls should be allowed to wear skirts that fall above the knee. The utterance by the Minister however has not been taken kindly by the faith institutions. “We remind leaders that the cultural and religious institutions of all people should be respected,” said Bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba, who is in charge of  the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru. Reference to the nuns in a derogatory manner was also not taken in kindly by religious leaders from across the board. The Muslim leader Sheikh Khalifa said “the minister’s statement was improper and it is aimed at damaging religious values ​​and values ​​of the African culture.” Professionals feel that the minister made his remarks without due regard that we are dealing with adolescents who require directions from the institutions of formation. These remarks are capable of bringing pandemonium in schools.  Bishop Geoffrey Buliba of Christian Brotherhood Church in Nakuru also dissaproved the minister’s statement saying that if care is not taken schools will become arenas for promiscuity. Lastly, Mutula’s statement attracted the wrath of nuns who asked him to apologise. The minister has remained adamant and indicated that he will not apologise and that the press mis-quoted him. A few days later he displayed a skirt recommended by the ministry of education to the country.

What the minister’s statement overlooked is that nuns cannot be trivialised as they are a great development force in Kenya. The contribution of the nuns in education, health, community and women empowerment cannot be over emphasized. Trivialising this role in the way the minister did, is quite unfortunate. The nuns have contributed in the formation of formidable men and women in different sectors of the society. A big proportion of the Kenyan political class, business class and civil society class have been shaped by institutions built by faith communities.   Some people who have had potitive in the lives of Kenyans include the Late Professor Wangari Maathai  who was a peace crusader and environmentalist, and a woman who played a big role in civic activism. She was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because of her services in bettering the plight of humanity. The list is endless but the fact remains that the formation given by nuns in all areas of community building in Kenya ought to be respected.

Lately in Kenya the media has reported many cases of many young girls being sexually harassed. Mini skirts could have the effect of making these girls more  sexually vulnerable to sex predators, the male teachers and male pupils/students. This could also make the children become prey to rapists who may be attracted by the exposed body parts, that could also result to more girl children becoming victims of sexual abuse, hence early parenting and increased number of school drop outs. It is a fact that most of the sexually abused are girls and young women, because naturally of their youth and feminine attributes and the commodification of sex. Poverty has also promoted sexual abuse on girls due to less access to resources at every level.

Concerns over dressing therefore should be taken serious. The young girls ought to be listened to and allowed to express themselves. Though it is generally agreed that the style of some uniforms needs to be adjusted, care however should be taken so as not to introduce a dress code which runs counter the country’s African morality and one that makes the girls be mistaken as sex toys. On the other hand as a society, let us not run away from our foundation and pretend to be that which we are not. This will be costly not only to us as a society but also to the future generations. We have to accept that changes come with time and also also consider their psy-chological effects as dictated by time and environment. However, order, discipline, modesty and decency should be the guiding factors in schools as this is where responsible citizens are molded. This will need at greatest the parental support in collaboration with the school heads.

It is therefore important that  leaders or prominent people be prudent when addressing a delicate  matter and when making public statements and declarations. Careless utterances could have the effects of not only hurting a section of a society but bring about un-anticipated negative outcomes. Moreso great care should be made when dealing with adolescent children. In essence leaders should consider it a virtue to consult before making passing statements on sensitive matters.

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