In some countries, wearing a miniskirt or exposing your midriff can bring you catcalls and second looks. In Swaziland, it can bring you jail time. Police in the ultra conservative African nation -- and the continent's last absolute monarchy -- say that they're going to start enforcing an 1889 ban on "immoral" dress. Seemingly to provide some justification for the ban, police spokeswoman Wendy Hleta explained how "skimpy clothing" is a threat for women. "The act of the rapist is made easy because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women," Hleta told the Times of Swaziland. "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."
Swaziland is a funny place. The country's run by King Mwsati III, an absolute monarch with a spotty human rights record and 13 wives, at least two of whom were appointed by the state. (His father, Sobhuza II had 70 wives and 210 children by the time he died.) It's a patriarchal society, that's for sure, but there's more than that to the country's concern about sexy clothing. The country is also dealing with a pretty dreadful HIV/AIDS epidemic, with a 26 percent prevalence rate, one of the highest in the world. Preventing rape would certainly slow the spread -- that is, if you think that banning miniskirts and exposed midriffs could actually reduce the rate. This what authorities in Swaziland have been thinking since 2000, when they started requiring school girls older than 10 to wear skirts that were knee-length or longer.
Whatever the reasoning, women in Swaziland better cover up. Getting caught showing too much skin could get you up to a year in prison. Or raped.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.