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Churches in Zambia speak out on ‘indecent dressing’ among women

Some Christian leaders in Zambia are calling for the Church in their country to play a stronger role in fighting moral decay and indecent dressing by women, seen in some quarters as a trigger to sexual promiscuity in a nation ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

At the same time other church members have warned that strident calls about female attire can trigger violence against women. As in the past, campaigns advocating traditional rather than Western dress for women have resulted in female harassment in some instances.

The United Church of Zambia Copperbelt Presbytery bishop, the Rev. Committee Njase, has urged the church in his country to play a critical role in fighting the increasing levels of indecent dressing and moral decay among Zambian women.

Bishop Njase was speaking to a congregation in Ndola on the northern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and was quoted by the government-owned Times of Zambia newspaper on 3 July.

"The kind of dressing by some of our women leaves much to be desired. There’s a lot of indecent dressing among our women and this has contributed to the high levels of promiscuity in the country. As Christians, let’s work together to deal with this scourge," said Njase. "We should not allow indecent dressing in church and we should ensure that as Christians, we should dress decently. I believe the Church can address this scourge effectively because we are closer to the people than any other institution."

A few says earlier, Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) spokesperson, the Rev. Paul Samasumo, said Roman Catholic bishops were advising people should be discreet in the way they dress when going to church. "There is not really a policy on what people should wear at church. We can just ask people to be restrained on dressing when going to church," he told the Post newspaper.

Priscilla Sandala, a parishioner at the St Charles Lwanga Catholic church, said: "Women should not be wearing dresses which expose their underwear." Her comments came after reports that several women were sent away from the church for wearing short skirts and tight trousers.

In May, however, the office of President Levy Mwanawasa rejected reports it had banned women from wearing miniskirts and skin-tight trousers under a new government campaign.

Mobs of male youths ran amok in Lusaka’s main market on 25 May attacking women dressed in trousers, miniskirts and attire considered indecent. Police spokesperson, Lemmy Kajoba, said the conduct could have been politically motivated. The president’s office, however, said it had directed police to deal firmly with the culprits.

Pastor Charles Musonda of the Matero Evangelical Fellowship Church in Zambia risked blows and rebukes from the mob as he rescued a woman who was attacked. He rued the mob psychology and pleaded with authorities to stop the chaos. "You cannot have a gang of boys attacking young women and undressing them in public," Musonda told the Times of Zambia.

Neighbouring Tanzania has tried to ban the wearing of miniskirts and tight trousers and to introduce a dress code in its legislature. During the late 1960s and the early 1970s in Zambia some politicians sought to do the same and introduce "traditional dress" and do away with the miniskirt.

(c) Ecumenical News International