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Swaziland’s Miniskirts Ban Criticized

Swaziland billboard warns young women against dating married men. (photo: Daniel Halperin)
In Swaziland, a member of the banned opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) party said the police ban on miniskirts is an example of a clash of modern civilization and traditional culture.

Police spokesperson Wendy Hleta reportedly said the miniskirts or “half-cloth” make it easier for a rapist to rape a woman.

She said women wearing revealing clothing were responsible for assaults or rapes committed against them.

Hleta also reportedly said violators of the ban could be jailed for six months.

But PUDEMO opposition member Mphandlana Shongwe says the ban is not likely to succeed, especially in the urban areas where a lot of women’s and other progressive groups are against it.

“The police claimed that this law has been existence for some time since the colonial period, but this is surprising to everybody, especially the youth and those people living in the urban areas. But those living in the rural areas, they support this idea,” he said.

He said Swaziland rural dwellers are more conservative than those in the urban areas because of their Christian background.

Shongwe described as "upsetting" police spokesperson Wendy Hleta’s comment that women wearing revealing clothing were responsible for assaults or rapes committed against them.

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He said there have been many rapes in Swaziland that do not involve people wearing revealing clothing.

“What would you say to the six-month-old, the eight-year-old? Would you say they have been raped because they are wearing revealing clothes? I think this police spokeswoman might be confusing things here. People think that one can be responsible for her own rape. This is a very primitive way of thinking,” he said.

Shongwe said the ban on miniskirts does not apply to traditional costumes worn by young Swazi women during ceremonies.

“The traditional authorities claim that this is culture. Yet it is also revealing. They also claim that this is only done may be once or twice a year, not like these miniskirts which can be worn any time or any day of the year,” Shongwe said.

He said the ban on miniskirts is an example of a conservative country which is resisting modernization but which is finding it very difficult.

“Definitely, I would say the issue of this ban on miniskirts is not going to succeed because of the constitutional rights and the awareness. People are more conscioustized. As I speak, a lot of women’s groups and other progressive are up in arms against this law. They claim that we cannot have such laws this time in this century,” he said.