Sari-wearing women may face jail if new Nigerian law passed

August 6th, 2008 - 1:53 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Aug 6 (IANS) Indian women in their traditional saris with midriffs showing may find themselves falling foul of Nigerian law if a bill currently under discussion in that country is passed. Tourists in towelling wraps and Nigerian women in traditional dress with their stomachs exposed could also find themselves behind bars for three months or subjected to fines of $100, according to the Media24 News Service here.

While women’s rights groups have come out strongly against the proposed law, Muslim leaders are supporting the bill, proposed by Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette, who felt that nudity was driving men to engage in corruption and steal from the state in Nigeria.

“Nudity leads to corruption,” Ishaq Akintola of the Muslim Rights Watch, a strong supporter of Akaette’s proposal, told Media 24.

“Nigerians are fighting corruption, through which many of our leaders, mostly men, have stolen fortunes for their personal use. They build colossal homes in London, Rome and New York because they have to spend money on women and have to hide them in these big homes.”

Akintola said scantily dressed women were luring men. “They are being misled every time by a naked woman.”

Women’s rights groups have called the proposed law “laughable”, but are concerned that the House of Representatives in the capital Abuja may push it through, since the assembly has already considered it twice.

Onyinyechi Okechukwu of Alliances for Africa, a women’s rights group, said the law would result in girls as young as 14 sitting behind bars in a country where police are reported to maltreat women regularly. The law would also be open to abuse because the police would have the discretion to seek out offenders on the streets, with the test being whether a woman’s body was exposed lower than two inches above the neck or more than two inches above the knee.

“The police will have to carry tape measures around. How will a policeman know that my dress is two inches below my neck if he doesn’t touch me? I’ll slap him!” Okechukwu said, adding that it was unfair that men may freely walk around topless, while “it is certainly a turn-on for some women”.

The Nigerian Feminist Forum said in a statement that more pressing issues in the country, such as female circumcision, the high infant mortality rate and rape of babies should get priority from the authorities.

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