Over the years, there have been numerous stories of girls and women getting stripped to the bone on the streets of Zambia for dressing indecently. Many people have called this type of dressing ‘indecent exposure.’ But what really is indecent exposure?
The full definition of the phrase ‘Indecent Exposure’ according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary is; intentional exposure of part of one’s body (as the genitals) in a place where such exposure is likely to be an offence against the generally accepted standards of decency.
Here, I am tempted to define the term ‘genitals’ as it seems to be very cardinal; when used as an adjective, a genital is something of, or relating to the sexual organs…I presume I don’t have to go into details and define what sexual organs really are.
There have been split opinions on whether these attacks on the unsuspecting females were justified or if there could have been better ways of addressing the problems instead of resorting to mob justice. I am not in any way going to place judgement on how people choose to express themselves by what they wear, however, my issue here is about the manner in which certain people have taken it upon themselves to execute public judgement on such people and the justification they feel is deserved of such conduct.
I have visited many social media feeds and have seen the same people previously condemning the xenophobic attacks in South Africa out-rightly celebrating the public humiliation rendered on women who had not been wise enough to dress appropriately for the setting of time and location in their personal missions. You cannot use the excuse of morality when you are trying to correct a wrong with another wrong – herein lies the difference between stupidity and morality.
When girls or women in Zambia are accused of ‘indecently’ exposing themselves, it usually means that they either wore something very short (dress, skirt or a blouse/top) that was too revealing. The question then is; why is such dressing considered indecent over here?
Is it a matter of law or simply a socio-cultural issue? Some people have argued for the former and others for the latter but I strongly suspect the scales tip more towards the latter. However, neither the Criminal Procedure Code Act CAP 88 nor the Penal Code Act CAP 87 of the Laws of Zambia clearly defines what constitutes indecent exposure and the punishment for offences, but rather, it is implied. I was looking for documents that might define – according to the Zambian Law what truly constitutes ‘Indecent Exposure’ but I couldn’t come across any in such a short time. But I am not a lawyer, perhaps experts might advise. However, I did find other sexual offences that are clearly stipulated in the Penal Code Act CAP 87, Chapter XV – Offences against Morality such as rape, incest, indecent assault, abortions, etc…but the issue of indecent exposure is not greatly touched here, if touched at all.
Section 137 of the same Penal Code provides for the following;
(1) – Indecent Assault – Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults any woman or girl is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.
(3) Indecently insulting or annoying females – Any female who is found in any building or dwelling-house or in any veranda or passage attached thereto or in any yard, garden or other land adjacent or within the curtilage of such building or dwelling house – not being a public place…
(a) For the purpose of and from motives of indecent curiosity gazing at or observing any woman or girl who maybe therein while in a state of undress or semi-undress, or
(b) With intent to annoy or indecently assault or insult any woman or girl who maybe therein;
Is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year
Many officers of the law such as judges and other prominent lawyers have been reported urging the police force to arrest anyone (mostly females) for indecent exposure but i am not sure if there is any document that specifies how long an outfit should be to constitute indecent exposure…which by the way refers to the exposure of one’s private parts. If you have to strip someone to see their genitalia, doesn’t that in itself mean that they had been covered in the first place? Shouldn’t society really find another word or phrase to describe women that wear very short things but still manage to cover their genitalia because I think indecent exposure doesn’t quite cut it? How about ‘exposure of body parts that lead men into the temptation of sin…?’ I bet this one will have every woman covered up from head to toe because let’s face it, a woman’s body weather covered or not can lead most men to sin. And why not, when their brains where programmed to think about sex every so often! I know of certain parts of the world where it is culture to have women covered from head to toe yet reports of gruesome rapes are very rampant over there. Who is to blame for that?
However, what amazes me about our judicial system is how well laws against indecent assault have been laid out and actually how many cases of such have been successfully prosecuted. Of the many women that have been beaten, attacked and stripped naked on the streets in town, how many of those attackers have been charged? The fact that not many of them if any at all have faced the wrath of the law is what has led to the continuous practice of such behaviour against our women folk.
There is no law that justifies or pardons the outright commitment of a crime as a means of preventing another one…or could this be an absolute case of the insidious limitations of criminal law with respect to the actus reus and mens rea – where the girls/women get punished (although through mob justice mostly) for indecent exposure while the perpetrators of indecent assault are left free simply because there is no charge against entertaining immoral thoughts even when in this case, those thoughts have been acted upon?
Other people have argued that miniskirts and other revealing clothes should be condemned because they go against the country’s code of being ‘a Christian Nation.’ This declaration on its own would make one jump to such conclusions as Christianity being the only religion legally practised, however, there are also other religions operating legally. It has never been an issue whether there are some people who prefer having no religious inclinations at all but as long as they are in Zambia, they ought to live by Christian standards. I am not sure if the fundamental human right of Freedom of Religion had any play when the country was being declared a Christian nation.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 18; everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Right now, I am looking for that section that allows for people to have the freedom to not belong or conform to any religion and to hell with the consequences of Judgement Day and Armageddon! I am sure there is an exception right here in the details of the UDHR that must not have been considered when our beloved nation was declared a Christian Nation. Is it the nation that is Christian, or is it the people? My argument here basically is; it is not right to judge others and impose your own beliefs on them. Hitherto, we come to the socio-cultural issue which seems to be the driving force behind the attacks on girls/women.
It is a fact that Zambia is to a very lack extent a conservative nation glued to its history and national heritage. We take pride in our culture and heritage because that’s what makes us who we are. However, this is not to say that we are a national immune to civilization or that international relations have had no impact on us, heck no! For every nation to survive and still hold its pride, it needs culture. Many people have accused the West of imposing its traditions and practices on developing countries but I stand to argue this one in respect to this aspect of culture.
Before the influence of the outside world, our people in Africa used to only wear animal skin which covered specific parts of their bodies and for some women, the breasts where not covered at all! This is part of our culture, our history and every now and then we still see this being practised during traditional ceremonies…women still parade in public wearing extremely short skirts exposing their huge buttocks and baring their boobs and stomachs as they dance seductively to the drums of the land. This is our culture; it is part of our tradition.
So tell me again, who taught that teenage girl that it’s okay to bounce around half-naked in public? Is it that European Model on the cover of a fashion magazine or could it be that aunt she saw performing during a traditional ceremony? Let us not be hypocrites! People from the West had clothes on while our ancestors pranced around half-naked in animal skin. The only thing they might have imposed on us are clothes and not nakedness. We were doing very fine by ourselves being naked until some fellas somewhere decided to completely cover us up. Even one of the most civilized cultures of all time in Africa – Egypt, the women there were not completely covered up, if not for their well-adorned girdles which left little to the imagination, they would have been practically naked.
As time would have it, Zambians and Africans at large have evolved over the years and have embraced the Western culture of wearing cotton, silk, polyester and the like so much that they have forgotten it was something they adopted! However, the issue right now isn’t necessarily about where clothes came from, I think the major issue is time and location. I think this is where most of these girls/women have gotten it all wrong and ended up having a really bad day.
There are certain parts of the country where one can walk in broad daylight wearing very skimpy or tight-fitting clothes and no one, or most people won’t throw them judgemental looks…places like Manda Hill or Arcades. And it gets worse at night, individuals you would otherwise see decently dressed during the day wearing clothes that even certain women from a certain ‘industry of the night’ would stare at in envy. This takes us back to time and location. It seems the brains of humans are structured like that; to easily accept something during a particular time and place but completely condemn the same thing another time and place. This is human nature. It is the culture of humans at large.
Whereas it is possible for one to be sexually aroused by what they see, there is no law that permits anyone to attack or sexually harass someone simply because they found their dressing offensive or seductive. When those women are attacked and stripped naked on the streets, it is not because their attackers are trying to instil a sense of moral obligation in them. The hard truth is that they are simply a bunch of hormone obsessed males who have allowed their ‘small brains’ to get the better of them. Because the law does not allow them to touch a female without permission, they choose to resort to the closest thing that would allow them to get to her without receiving condemnation from the masses – they claim they are teaching the indecently dressed females a lesson by stripping them naked.
Suffice to say, the very men perpetuating these attacks on the streets are the same ones who throw insults and demeaning comments on every possible woman that passes by. I cannot count the number of times I have been sexually harassed or felt insulted by the comments thrown by these thugs on the streets dressed as men. I have never walked around town half-naked or with major parts of my body exposed. If anything, I take extra precaution with how I look and what I wear to avoid this group of ignorant buffoons from hailing sexually offensive comments at me. However, that doesn’t seem to stop them!
This is something that goes on almost every day, women are made feel negatively about their own sexuality or lack thereof and they are subjected to sexual harassment in many forms every single day. There is a section of the law as outlined above that provides punishment for such offenses but honestly, how many of such cases have successfully been prosecuted? These officers of the law are busy throwing instructions around to arrest those suspected of indecent exposure but it would be nice if they would also be strict even on those committing offences like indecent assault.
Even in my most nun-like outfits, I have had men strip search me with their eyes or totally strip me naked with their comments. It is not because I did anything to warrant their wrath. I refuse to take responsibility for the ‘hornyness’ they can’t seem to control. I shouldn’t have to apologize for how beautiful I look or how good I look in my clothes. It is not my responsibility to help you control your sexual urges. You owe it to society to keep a morally incorrupt mind-set instead of blaming your genes and hormones for your behaviour.
That aside, I think it is also the duty of females to protect themselves from possible attacks that are sexually related. Just like one would avoid passing through a narrow dangerous street in the night all alone, isn’t it better to apply the same wisdom when we are about to go out in public? Provided, you might have a gun on you for protection, but aren’t there any other options you could take to avoid paying a higher price as a consequence of your actions? Yes, we have the freedom to wear whatever we want, but if this freedom will put us in the line of fire, isn’t it better to do everything in our power to keep ourselves from harm’s way? Sometimes, it really pays to ‘dress for the occasion,’ we cant all be Lady Gaga.
Unfortunately, it is not guaranteed, as I have illustrated already that dressing modestly will stop certain men from sexually harassing women on the streets. Unless men take it upon themselves to correct their behaviour, women will continue to be vulnerable in society. If people are so concerned about instilling moral behaviour in girls/women who dress indecently, how about starting by adjusting their own moral campus towards the right direction and approach this matter the way it should be handled? Stripping them naked is not the corrective measure necessary here; I believe that as a ‘Christian nation’ that we keep emphasizing we are, there are better ways of leading ‘such’ women towards the ‘right path.’ Who are you to render punishment on them when just the other day you snatched a phone from my hands! Drop the act, just because you have become so dame good and sinning and hiding it doesn’t make you any better than the rest of us.