Civil servants may be punished or even lose their jobs if they turn up for work in pants, tight skirts, bare back tops or tops that reveal a cleavage.
The Office of the President has issued a directive that all civil servants should dress in a manner that ensures that certain parts of their bodies would not be exposed, and that failure to comply with the instruction shall be viewed as breach of law and punishable in line with stipulated provisions governing civil servants.
The directive has enumerated clothes which have been banned and that only religious and traditional head covers and headgears would be allowed subject to the discretion of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry concerned.
The directive says: “It is mandatory for public employees to dress in a manner that reflects credit on the Public Service, in line with General Order 34.1”
A copy of a circular savingram, dated 19th March, 2009 which was circulated to all heads of government departments stated that “in order to ensure consistency in the application of General Order 34.1, specific type of dress will not be worn while on duty”.
Mention is made of clothing that reveals the hollow between women’s breasts, bareback, chest and armpits as well as those that show a person’s stomach and underwear as punishable.
A female government employee complained that the directive was sexist and discriminated against women by applying standards of dress to women that did not equally apply to men.
It is believed that the directive that bans wearing smart pants or tops that reveal a cleavage at work may have been directed at what some men see as provocative dress by “liberated” women.
The fact that men hardly ever display their body parts in public also creates the impression that the order may be directed at female employees rather than their male counterparts.
In addition, casual and gym wear, including jeans and shorts, and short or tight skirts, pants and dresses are prohibited. Employees will not be allowed to put on casual and sports shoes.
It was indicated that tops, shirts and t-shirts with offensive words, logos, pictures and cartoons as well as slogans formed part of the black list.
Men and women who have always been in the habit of weekly hair make ups are accordingly advised to revisit their saloons for something modest, than their usual colourful hairstyles.
“Accounting Officers are requested to give this Circular Savingram the widest possible publicity and ensure compliance at all times,” reads part of the order. In conclusion, it states that “Non compliance shall amount to refusal to obey a lawful order or direction, which is a disciplinary offence.”
Some of the addressees included for circulation of the instruction are the Botswana Defence Force Commander, Auditor General, Commissioner of Botswana Police and Directors of Government funded oversight institutions, such as the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime.
The findings of research upon which the directive is based , and its motivation, are still a matter that is known only to the authorities.