Government workers in Uganda must comply with a new dress code that forbids short skirts and coloured hair for women and directs men to wear darker coloured suits and shoes.
A previous edict dating to 2010 had required civil servants to dress “smart,” but did not spell out what this meant. The new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Public Service go into considerably more detail.
Female staff have been told to ensure that dresses and skirts go below the knee and that the back, navel and cleavage are also covered. Alternatively, women may wear pant-suits, but they have been warned not to wear any tight-fitting clothing. Any blouse must be short- or long-sleeved, but not sleeveless.
The circular further states that women’s accessories should be modest and makeup on the face should be “simple and not exaggerated.”
Male civil servants are required to wear “neat trousers, long-sleeved shirts, jacket and a tie.” Open shoes are not allowed. Men’s suits should be dark colours, not bright ones: “Officers should dress in dark colours like dark green or brown, navy blue, grey and black suits.” Also the trousers should not be “tightly fitting.”
Hair is an area where the circular may be open to differing interpretations. The only thing explicitly banned is “bright colored hair,” whether in the form of natural hair or hair extensions. Otherwise, the only guidance provided by the circular is that hair should be kept “neat and presentable.” Men’s hair should be “well-groomed and generally kept short” – though, again, the decree is not specific on what this means.
The guidelines apply to all non-uniformed civil servants. Permanent Secretary Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwiire is responsible for the order. She explained that she issued the order after observing that “Public Officers have continued to dress in a manner that does not portray a good image of the service and does not fall within the generally acceptable standards of the Community.”
Reactions to the new dress code on social media were mixed. Some critics thought the measure draconian and unnecessary while others saw it as a positive moral measure.
Facebook user Achen W. commented, “Ugandan leaders are indeed crazy. İ wish they had similar convictions towards poverty; corruption; poor public transportation system; bad roads.” Likewise, Lilyanne P. said, “Like really, of all the things that need to be fixed in this country long coloured nails and fitting trousers are what bother this Madame [the Permanent Secretary] the most. Interesting….”
Joseph Winter, a BBC Africa editor writing on Twitter posted a photo of himself in a brightly coloured t-shirt saying, “Just as well I’m not a Ugandan civil servant, or I’d be sent home to get changed.”
On the other hand, Samson E. welcomed the new dress code saying, “My dear sisters, it’s not being crazy. Women have copied the Western style of life that has highly disrespected our traditional cultural dignity. Western life style has played a big role in destroying traditional cultures simply because they are creating their products so to sell them… Now walking almost naked to offices is good?? … Well done Ministers who are involved.”
Enid I., also a supporter of the circular, argued that some kind of dress code is necessary and standards of this kind or not unusual in other countries: “Okay I understand that the ladies want to look beautiful – why not? But even in developed countries in some working places you are not allowed long painted nails open shoes, etc. The issue is for your own security and others.”