Mbabane - Women in Swaziland have been banned from wearing miniskirts and tank or “crop” tops.
The wearing of low-slung jeans that reveal the upper buttocks has now been criminalised, becoming punishable by a six-month prison sentence.
Yet the maidens’ “indlamu” costume, a beaded frontal belt worn when young women dance for King Mswati topless and with their buttocks fully exposed, is permissible, authorities declared.
“They will be arrested,” police spokesperson Wendy Hleta warned clothing code violators when she addressed Swazi media at the weekend.
Police will enforce the long-disused 1889 Crimes Act, which was put in place to serve the 300 white settlers residing in the Swazi territory at the time.
Swazi police were responding to a march last month by young women seeking equal rights and safety in a country where women are legal minors and two-thirds of teenage girls have been victims of sexual assault.
Swazi authorities discourage any public protests and police blocked women marchers wearing miniskirts, although they could not say which specific laws they were violating.
Hleta said the use of the 19th century law would be applied to anyone wearing revealing and indecent clothes. Women wearing revealing clothes were responsible for assaults or rapes committed against them.
“We do not encourage that women should be harmed, but at the same time people should note acceptable conduct of behaviour,” she said.
“The act of the rapist is made easy because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women,” said the police spokeswoman.
“I have read from the social networks that men and even other women have a tendency of ‘undressing people with their eyes’. That becomes easier when the clothes are hugging or are more revealing,” Hleta said.
Breast-feeding infants in public is still permissible, police said. As for wearing only a traditional g-string to perform the Reed Dance before King Mswati, Hleta said this apparel is permissible because police have no records of any maiden being raped while wearing the costume.
Women have been advised on a way to retrieve dropped objects that will not make them culpable in their own assaults by exciting males.
“For females it is polite that when you have dropped something, squat with your upper body still upright and pick up the item rather than bending half your body head first to pick up the item.”
The Swazi police spokeswoman did not say whether a woman improperly picking up a dropped object would be arrested or merely issued with a warning.