Kenyans were outraged when a video of women being stripped naked by a mob of men in Nairobi emerged on social media last week. The women were targeted because of the way they dressed. At a protest march in the city, people chanted “My dress, my choice!” and used the hashtag #MyDressCodeMyChoice to oppose the harassment of women and defend women’s right to dress as they choose. Close to a thousand people attended the march and yet another woman was attacked and stripped hours later.
PONTSHO PILANE took to the streets of Braamfontein and Bree Taxi Rank to ask women what role the fear of harassment plays in their daily clothing choices.
Shela Mashiane, 20, student, Diepkloof
I use public transport regularly and I do consider where I am going while I am choosing clothes. If you walk in town wearing short things, men will do and say funny things to you and I don’t like that. Men treat women so badly in the streets and I try to avoid any trouble. I’ve had experiences where I was wearing shorts and men kept groping me and saying “Hello lovey,” and other things like that. I hate it, especially because I just keep quite. I am afraid they might do something bad to me, so I just ignore them.
Puleng Nhlapo, 20, student,Orange Farm
I am not a slender girl, so if I wear something above my knee it may ride up sometimes. As I walk in town men will call me things like “Sdludlu” and “My Size” and it is uncomfortable. I never respond or even show my discomfort when these men do this, I am afraid the will swear at me, or worse, they will hit me. I don’t see how anything will change, not even the police can help. I feel as women, if you trust yourself, you can wear whatever you want, but still, I want to protect myself.
Jae Sodinga, 19, student, Primrose
If I know that I will be walking through town I choose my clothes accordingly. On my brave days, I dare to wear something knee length; anything shorter than that makes me feel naked because of the stares I will get. We grow up with the notion that “Men will be men, that’s how they will act” and their behaviour is a woman’s responsibility. It never matters what I am wearing, although I try to wear something discreet, I get harassed all the time anyway. There is a constant fear I have when I am walking in Braamfontein and in town. Just being a woman is scary, because men already have physical power.
Thando Loate, 19, student, Winchester
The other day I was walking with my 14-year-old sister and she was wearing shorts, men kept catcalling at her and shouting “Baby!” to her. She is 14. In Braamfontein, there are “safe” streets and there are other streets where you will definitely be harassed. Harassment is significantly higher and more frequent for women who have to use public transport and don’t drive. As much as I don’t want to say this, we don’t have a choice but to dress in a way that doesn’t make you a target. It’s not fair.
Zamokuhle Sibeko, 21, controller, Newtown
I think a lot about what I wear to town because I don’t want to be harassed. I am very conservative and sensitive and I want to be respected. In the streets of Johannesburg it really does not matter what you wear anyway. I am a big person and I think I have it worse, men say things like “My Size”. Women who use public transport are at the bottom of the food chain, we have it harder – we are the worst victims ever.