Apr 08, 2021 Letters
Kaieteur News – Is Guyana really a secular state or a theocracy? Why is it that state institutions operate like religious places that police women’s bodies and enforce their brand of modesty and decency on all regardless of personal beliefs and lifestyle choices? Guyanese women are ‘allowed’ to walk the streets of Guyana in sleeveless blouses yet are required to cover their shoulders when entering the majority of government/public institutions that are funded by Guyanese taxpayers and exist to serve the needs of the general public. Does this make sense?
Most persons dress for comfort and weather conditions and as we all know when it’s not raining, we enjoy hot, humid weather the entire year. Many public institutions have boards at the entrance with dress codes that belong to another time and have no place in the 21st century especially in a ‘secular’, multi-cultural country with people of different religious and non-religious (atheists and agnostics) backgrounds.
What right do these places have to refuse entry to a Guyanese taxpayer solely because the shoulders are not covered? Usually, the only places where one would expect to cover one’s shoulders are at religious sites. The act of policing visitor’s attire at state institutions is discriminatory in nature since they are supposed to serve all regardless of beliefs and lifestyles; not for all are the concepts of modesty and decency the same.
Even when dress code signs are not placed or the part on sleeveless attire is missing, the security guards make it their sacred duty to humiliate women who dare to enter with uncovered shoulders. It’s as if one walked into the place naked which provokes a command to cover those provocative and highly sexualised bare shoulders with something, preferably a jacket although this article of clothing is more suited for cold weather. I’ve personally experienced this policing at the NIS office (Camp St), RDC (Region 4), compound that houses the GHRA and ERC; and other places (that serve the public) too numerous to mention.
Due to the fact that many state institutions are not technologically up-to-date where citizens can go online to download and upload forms, track the progress of their matters, send and receive prompt email responses etc., the vast majority of times my visits to these places have been for much mundane things as dropping off letters, uplifting forms or checking up on my ‘small matters’.
Ironically, many influential and powerful women in Guyana are frequently pictured in sleeveless dresses and blouses. Would any security personnel dare deny these women entry to the public institutions? Some of them are even at the helm of these places. Are the shoulders of these women ‘better’, ‘more decent’ or ‘less sexual and immoral’ than ordinary women?
Instead of humiliating and objectifying women by policing their bodies people should start seeing the female form as normal and not something that is indecent or immoral. These archaic attitudes encourage victim blaming and shaming which is still prevalent in our society. Women are still blamed for sexual assaults and other crimes perpetrated against them when society focuses on their choice of clothing instead of the crimes.
There are so many important things that should be paid attention to at these state agencies instead of the policing of women’s clothing. No person should be denied access to any tax-payer funded institution solely because of a sleeveless outfit, tight jeans or V-neck blouse. State institutions should not enforce dress codes on the public which are more suited for religious sites; their values should reflect that of the supposedly secular state.
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