It is against this backdrop that Churches and civil society organizations in Cameroon have been called to join the government in the fight against indecent dressing prevalent amongst young girls in the country. This call is contained in a release signed by some four members of government in Yaounde on Tuesday November 19, 2013.
The signing of the release was the hallmark of a press conference to launch the National Campaign Against Indecent Dressing jointly granted by the Ministers of Women Empowerment and the Family, Arts and Culture, Communication and the Minister Delegate at the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization.
During the press conference, the Minister of Women Empowerment and the Family, Prof. Marie Therese Abena Ondoua observed that indecent dressing exposes young girls to dangers such as sexual harassment.
Marie Therese Abena condemned this trend: “You know the role of the girl child in the family - mother of the children. She starts as a young girl and if at her young age she is not well-dressed and well-behaved, how she will be expected to raise a family?” the Minister questioned.
Although some expressed concerns about certain tribes which expose their bodies during dancing, according to Arts and Culture Minister, Ama Tutu Muna, some cultural practices are done within context. She said dress codes have to do with who you are, where you are and even what you are doing.
“You cannot wear a swim suit to a dinner party”, she said. “Pygmies expose their bodies when dancing as part of their tradition. Are you a normal person who lives in town to behave like a pygmy?” She further explained that pygmies are allowed to behave in a certain context the way they are used to, “so there is no problem with his own culture and the way he is living”.
Cameroon has a rich cultural heritage and the Arts and Culture Minister observed that “at the level of the Ministry of Arts and Culture, when we project some of these cultures, we take into consideration a minimum code for decency and that is why we use certain clothes that are very transparent but hold and cover the body”.
Though some of these cultural practices might seem indecent, Ama Muna went on, “while you are not going to prevent people from acknowledging who they are, you are not going to walk around town like that”.
Communication Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary on his part pledged the involvement of all the media houses in Cameroon in the fight.
Rev Agapitu Fon, auxiliary Bishop of the Bamenda Archdiocese says he will not give the sacrament to an indecently dressed Christian. “We don’t want people who are poorly dressed. If you appear dressed like that, we will send you out”.
Nonetheless, Larissa, a 23 years old University of Yaounde II student thinks that by asking young girls to dress modestly, “the old Ministers are simply expressing their jealousy of the young generation”.
Marie-Anabelle Ngono, a cyber café attendant in Ngousso Yaounde on her part says ‘sexy dressing’ is fashionable and she sees no reason why the government should be asking young girls to “dress like women of the 1960s”.
Prof Tafah Edokat, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bamenda says all students who come to school poorly dressed are simply sent back home. “We have instructed our campus police to send back home all students who dress indecently”.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics at the Catholic University of Bamenda, Prof Paul Nkwi says “Any student that dresses and exposes parts of the body as if that student was going to the night club is simply sent back”. He however holds that dress codes for students should be instituted in higher institutions of learning from day one.
Most of those who dress indecently might however just be ignorant of the legal implications. Jules Doret Ndongo, Minister Delegate at the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization said indecent dressing is punishable by law.
Article 263 of the Cameroon penal code provides that girls who dress half-naked could face a prison term ranging from two weeks to two years and fines ranging from CFA 20,000-100,000 CFA Frs, if prosecuted and found guilty.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde