'Unconstitutional'

Lawyer says no-sleeveless policy offends rights of individuals

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Observer staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

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A prominent attorney-at-law yesterday argued that the 'no sleeveless' dress code imposed for the public's interaction with State agencies and departments is unconstitutional.

According to Bert Samuels, refusing to grant individuals entry to public buildings because they are dressed in sleeveless clothing could offend their constitutional right to liberty, freedom of association and freedom of movement.

Samuels said the legislation that speaks to clothing is the indecent exposure law, which prohibits too much exposure of the human body, moreso, the exposure of private parts.

“So where do you draw the line? The exposure of arms does not breach any statute. A sleeveless individual is not unlawfully clad. A sleeveless individual is not breaching any of our laws,” he stated.

The Jamaica Observer sought Samuels' view on the growing controversy after yesterday's front page story reporting social media reactions to a tweet by University of the West Indies lecturer, Professor Verene Shepherd for the Government to revise the dress code.

Shepherd had last week questioned the origin of the “no sleeveless” rule at government offices and institutions after sharing that she went to a high school in St Thomas and the security guard looked into her vehicle and asked if anyone in the group was wearing a sleeveless top.

Her post led to a number of her social media followers, mainly women, speaking out against the rule, the hindrances it has caused, and questioning its necessity in modern society.

“With Kingston as one of the global cities experiencing climate change departure let's see if it will be death before sleeveless #mentalslavery,” Latoya West-Blackwood posted.

Melanie Schwapp tweeted in response: “I went to get a yellow fever shot, after waiting 20 minutes to register I was told that I couldn't get the shot because my top was sleeveless.”

Nationwide Radio presenter Patria-Kaye Aarons joined the debate, tweeting: “When I went to take my voters' ID pic I was sent away because my top was sleeveless.”

West-Blackwood posted further that it was time for the rule to be challenged, as no one should be denied access to a critical services because they don't have a sleeve on.

Yesterday, Samuels said that the civil service has maintained many rules from Jamaica's colonial experience. Therefore, even the wearing of a jacket is consistent with a temperate country, but the rules against sleeveless clothing could be seen in the context where the weather makes it unbearable for many of us to be clad in temperate wear.

The controversial issue has brought into focus the decision earlier this year by the British Parliament to allow male Members of Parliament (MPs) to attend debates without wearing a necktie.

According to the British House Speaker John Bercow, MPs would basically be expected to dress in “business-like attire”.

British media reported that the decision brought the House of Commons more closely in line with a move towards informal dress in offices, spearheaded by technology companies.

In 2015, the Observer's All Woman magazine explored the issue of no sleeveless attire in public agencies after a businesswoman was turned away from doing business at the then Kingston and St Andrew Corporation because she was wearing a dress with capped sleeves.

The 2015 story also highlighted the views of some individuals that the rules smack of Christian fundamentalism and a push to sexualise women's bodies.

At the time, Reverend Karl Johnson, general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union, warned that this oversexualising is as bad as what obtains in “rape culture”, where some people believe women ask to be raped because of the clothes they wear.

“Let us not view modesty as an outdated kind of concept. Modesty is a virtue to aspire to. I am not making modesty the enemy,” Johnson said. “However, I believe too many of our dress codes, whether wittingly or unwittingly, end up with this oversexualising mode, because if you check it out, I would be willing to hazard a guess that the majority of these target women.”

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