A Response to Ida Odinga’s ‘An Open Letter of Concern’

I have argued for days on end with my friends about the campaign on social media calling for society to respect the individual choice women exercise when wearing their clothes. My argument has centered on the premise that this campaign is philosophically unsound and hence bound to fail having caused more harm than good. Those arguing against me have maintained that women have a right to choose what they want to wear and society should not interfere with this choice. A friend of mine shared with me an article that I found most interesting. The article was articulate and incisive. The author of the article, the graceful Ida Odinga is a woman worthy of great respect and she needs no introduction in African society.

The article called for a cessation of all violence against women, it brought attention to issues of gender disparity in Kenya and it questioned the response of our security apparatus to this vivid threat against the dignity and personal safety of women in our country. Mrs. Odinga also decried how society pressures women to conform to societal expectations. She advised women not to succumb to sexual objectification and/or objectify themselves. Finally, she voiced her support for a woman’s right to choose what to wear depending on her preferences. I do not intend to disagree with Mrs. Odinga but it is my intention to highlight a few areas and possibly bring these areas to her attention because she can do a lot whereas all I can do is write.

The most important area that needs continued reinforcement is the unequivocal condemnation of what happened to the women in Embakasi, Mombasa and Kayole among other areas. The forcefully stripping of women is an act of utmost barbarity that brings shame upon our society, as no civilized nation would allow such things to happen to its women regardless of how much it disagrees with their choices. As Mrs. Odinga asks, “Where is the security apparatus?” The fact that such events can happen repeatedly means that someone is sleeping on the job. We cannot pay taxes when those we pay taxes to fail to protect our women.

We must come together based on what unites us at such times and then discuss divisive matters later. Doing so is wise because it allows us to defeat a common enemy i.e. violence against women with one huge blow. Unfortunately, those campaigning under the banner of ‘My Dress, My Choice’ have decided to take a divisive route rather than embrace a united front inadvertently hurting the cause for women’s rights in Kenya. The issue of violence against women is independent of dressing and this is a fact we ought to acknowledge. Those who choose to harm women or anyone for that matter will do so when opportunity strikes and not when one wears a particular clothing item. The campaigners took advantage of the circumstances surrounding the events in Embakasi to push forth an agenda they would have pushed even if there were no violence against women. In other words, Embakasi gave them impetus but it did not give them a cause to jump-start this campaign.

The issue of dressing in society is not a simple matter of putting on a clothing material and then going out on the street. Dressing is an intricate part of any society because it is a form of non-verbal communication applying to both men and women. For example, men wear suits at the workplace and so do women. Men should cover up certain parts of their bodies, as should women. Imagine a man coming to work with shorts that show his thighs or shirts that show his chest hair. It is impossible to imagine is it not. This shows you that society limits men as well as women when it comes to dressing. Even the slightest deviations from the norm invite questions anywhere on the planet. Mark Zuckerberg has answered questions about his dressing many times and so did Steve Jobs. Answering these questions does not make you less human, doing so helps society to understand you and perhaps discover something new. Encouraging constructive dialogue is the key.

This issue is divisive because those campaigning under the banner of ‘My Dress My Choice’ refuse to dialogue about dressing in society. This dialogue does not focus on women alone but on men and women. It does not seek to confine women to certain modes of dressing but it seeks to understand why the proposed changes to the current modes of dressing are necessary. The state of morality in society is the main issue among those resisting this campaign. Remember, these same people condemn what happened in Embakasi because of their strong moral convictions based on sound religious doctrine. It is becoming clear that those behind the ‘My Dress My Choice’ campaign fight against what happened in Embakasi not because of strong moral convictions but out of the fear that it could happen to them or their loved ones. This is understandable but not necessary good because it also means that they would let it happen or ignore it if someone assured them of their safety.

Now we have a case similar to what happened to Napoleon in 1812 as he tried to conquer Europe. He opened up two fronts of war i.e. mainland Europe and Russia instead of sticking to one front. He divided his forces costing him time, money, resources and troops that he could have used to conquer Europe if he would have only kept sight of the future instead of living for the present. Our leaders should not divide our forces especially when violence against women is on the rise. The people intent on pursuing the Russian front i.e. those fighting for individual choice when it comes to dressing must do so later. Now we must focus on Europe i.e. we must fight violence against women, which is a crime of opportunity that has nothing to do with dressing just like domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment. Together we can win this war but the war will end badly if these campaigners persist with their skewed agenda or if our leaders encourage two fronts of war.

You may also want to read the following article on the same issue. Click on the link below to find out more.



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