Public servants in Uganda are facing a strict dress code after the government issued a circular warning them to “dress decently”. Female staff have been told not to show any cleavage, wear brightly coloured nails, braids or hair extensions, sleeveless or transparent blouses.
Men must wear long-sleeved shirts, jackets and ties, while trousers should not be tight-fitting. Staff failing to comply will be disciplined. The guidelines, issued by the Ministry of Public Service apply to all non-uniformed civil servants. But there is a feeling that female staff are the main focus on the new rules.
While women will be allowed to wear pant-suits, they have been warned not to wear any tight-fitting clothing. Dresses and skirts must at least be knee-length. Uganda is a conservative society and women have previously complained of being harassed if they wear mini-skirts in public.
The Ministry of Public Service’s director of Human Resources, Adah Muwanga, said they had to act after receiving complaints: “We were approached with complaints that, specifically lady officers, were dressing in an unacceptable manner, with mini-skirts and showing body parts which otherwise generally should be covered in Ugandan society,” she told the BBC.
She said the ministry has overall responsibility to guide on the administration and management of the public service and “this is how we want the public to view us”. The circular further states that accessories should be modest, while long fingernails of more than 3cms (1.5in) with bright or multi-coloured nail polish are also not permitted.
Flat, open shoes are ruled out, except in cases where one can prove that it is for medical reasons. Men have been told they should keep their hair short and neat, and not wear brightly coloured clothes. The circular is derived from Public Service Standing Orders on dress code, put in place in 2010.
However, the BBC’s Patience Atuhaire in Kampala says the dress code does not seem to have been paid much attention to up to now. Mrs Muwanga said that staff who failed to comply with the new enforcements would be cautioned at first, and repeat offenders would face disciplinary action.
However she added “there is always room for review”.