Mr Moeen ul-Hack (whose December 4 Stabroek News letter, ‘Modest dress would protect a woman against rape’) has stimulated much discussion should be commended for his bold stand. His letter sought to make concrete recommendations for Guyanese to adopt to counteract the endemic violence against women. First, respect women and treat them as your own. Second, promote education to teach alternative dispute resolution; in his parlance to use head instead of hands. Third, create a violence-free home by refraining from alcohol and other drugs. Fourth, refrain from pornography, advertisement and any ‘culture’ that promotes violence against women. And fifth, adopt a dress code of modesty.
Much criticism has been heaped upon Mr Hack. His dress code is supposed to protect women against rape and deter men from contemplating such. He has been unfairly maligned as “a classic case of blaming the victim,” etc. While a dress code alone will not protect women from rape, it should not be discarded as outlandish. The perfect analogy is the Guyanese home. Guyana is a crime-ridden society; every Guyanese house is equipped with many security devices: locks, grillwork, door and window alarms, etc. Had Mr Hack been recommending grillwork for a home, would he be blaming the victim or condoning the perpetrator? The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Given the nature of Guyanese society, any house in Georgetown without grillwork and all the security apparatus that is required for living there invites invasion. Similarly, the logic of Mr Hack’s dress code, while not disputing that rape is a crime of power and dominance, is to ask women and men not to dress in a way to attract the attention of a potential rapist. Mr Hack’s call for modesty in dress is a call for prudent behaviour.
A fair question has been asked, how to define modest dress? A practical approach can be fashioned from US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s pronouncement on pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…” Similarly, decorum in dress is discerned when seen.
Mr Hack has no apologies to make for his December 4 letter.