‘Stop trying to police our clothes’

The Department of Immigration. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

The Department of Immigration. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

Reader poll

Are you in favour of the dress code at the Department of Immigration?

  • Yes, I am in favour of the dress code 57%
  • No, I am not in favour of the dress code 43%

285 total votes.


Tribune Staff Reporter


ACTIVISTS have criticised the Department of Immigration’s new dress code for entry as “gender-based discrimination” and “irrational”.

The issue became topical after women reported being turned away from the facility for wearing shorts or sleeveless dresses.

Marion Bethel, an attorney who currently serves on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW), and Alicia Wallace, director of Equality Bahamas, both spoke out against the policy yesterday.  

In recent months, Caribbean countries such as Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have distanced themselves from a rule that many consider to be outdated and a vestige of colonialism.  

In August, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness suspended the country’s own “no sleeveless” policy, a “long-standing practice of prohibiting women wearing sleeveless attire from entry into government buildings,” according to the Jamaica Gleaner.  

Days later, the Antigua and Barbuda government ordered its own “comprehensive review” of dress code policy in government buildings, the Antigua Observer reports. 

In response to criticisms raised last week, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette told The Tribune people must be “properly dressed” when coming to the facility. When asked to elaborate, Mr Symonette said this meant “respectable clothing” and added the rules are applicable to men and women. 

On Friday, The Tribune visited the Department of Immigration and witnessed one woman have to borrow a sweater to gain entry, as she was wearing a sleeveless dress.

Activists have criticized these occurrences.  

“Because what I’m understanding is that women are predominantly affected by this code… even though the code does say it applies to men and women, my sense is that this is really targeting women and our clothing,” Ms Bethel told The Tribune. “And so in that case, yes, it is misogynistic and it is prejudicial and biased against women and policing of us and our bodies and our clothes. (It) is outrageous and not acceptable.

“I think any public entity like immigration, like health services, social services, the Labour Board, National Insurance, all of these kinds of agencies that have a public service; any kind of public code that they want to enact, it has to be based on some principle, it has to be rational, it has to be reasonable, and it has to be non-discriminatory,” Ms Bethel continued. 

Describing the practice as “deplorable,” Ms Bethel noted that taxpayers finance for the services these government agencies provide, and thus should be able to enter “without policing of our clothes.” 

“And so the fact that that’s happening and it seems to be happening disproportionately with women in regard to our clothing, to me it’s really discriminatory,” Ms Bethel added. 

For her part, when asked if the Bahamas should follow the steps taken by Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, Ms Wallace noted all these countries have a similar climate.  

“I don’t see what a sleeveless blouse or dress has to do with my going into a public agency and asking for a particular service that I may be paying for or not be paying for…What morality is trying to be asserted here and who’s morality? I just don’t understand that it’s anybody’s business that I wear sleeveless blouse or dress.

 “Whose standards, who’s setting up this public code that does not have broad buy-in, that seems to be peculiar to a department in government, and it seems to be very unreasonable, given the circumstances of the…nature of the country that we live in, where shorts and where sleeveless blouses are common.” 

She said government services should be accessible to everyone, regardless of gender or socio-economic status.

“There are people whose uniforms are shorts, and it is not unreasonable to expect that people dress comfortably on their days off,” Ms Wallace said.

“General orders for civil servants is one thing, but denying residents’ access to services – and we know this has frequently come up at the Ministry of Education as well – is discriminatory, irresponsible, and obviously to the discretion of whomever is controlling building entry.  

“. . .We need to address the sexualisation of women’s bodies, linked to the desire to make women invisible under the guise of ‘professionalism,’ and recognise the danger of denying access to services, especially on such weak grounds that create an unnecessary barrier particularly for women and people living in poverty,” Ms Wallace said.


joeblow 5 years, 5 months ago

Gender discrimination (so called for convenience) and public decency are not mutually exclusive!

Some people have such low standards or no standards at all that they have to be given guidance as to appropriate attire in public places!


stillwaters 5 years, 5 months ago

Seems to me that if you're going into that office to try to get a work permit or any other document that allows you to stay in this country, you'd want to present your best self.


DDK 5 years, 5 months ago

Again, are we talking about presentable sleeveless blouses or dresses for woman and vests for men, or attire five sizes too small, with underwear and everything God gave us, including the fat he did not give us, both sexes, hanging out all over the place and looking like slobs? Properly dressed means respectfully dressed, men and women should have respect for themselves as well as others. I think it has a little to do with "broughtupsies"!!


Sickened 5 years, 5 months ago

We need stricter dress codes for public places as well. These gay guys walking around with their pants below their glory holes need to be put back in prison.


bogart 5 years, 5 months ago

Of all the Gubbermint Ministries......the Immigration Ministry shoudda been in the forefront of worldwide awareness too...of many foreign nationals who will be discriminated against for wearing their own country's national dress....and even some persons whose Religeous dress may entail Turban .....or Jewish or Rastas......what about military personnel wearing govt issued caps.....Many questions like the fashion of wemmen wearing jeans wid torn fabric....jackets ..clothing wid picture scenes....offensive words on tee shirts....buttons with messages pinned to clothing....tight leather pants......men with baggy pants possibly hiding weapons...or falling down showing their underwear.....ehat about footwear like some designer slippers....what about fashions wid jewellry piercings ears nose eyebrows, goth, spike bands, goth makeup....hairstyles.mohawh, spike...bald head chemo hair loss people wid cap...????


sealice 5 years, 5 months ago

if it's targeting women it's because they are dressing inappropriately..... wake da fuq up!! Why do they dress like whores? Because they never got an education and can only sell what god gave them for any income or support.....and even that can't pay the bills so they sell pussee 24 / 7??


geostorm 5 years, 5 months ago

Not sure what the big fuss is about. If you leave your house to go to the Immigration Office, dress yourself properly. Why not present your best self if you are looking to live, work and reside in this country!


TalRussell 5 years, 5 months ago

Ma comrades, when you post nonsenses about lack knowing how dress properly among natives, what is being missed here is less than 1 out every 10,000 individuals having a need to come in contact with or by having to ever pay a visit to an immigration office - excepting apply and check on progress work permit applications for they imported domestics, gardeners and nannies. And, regardless what crown minister says, this is a straight line to signal out feminine looking and walking abouts all kinds born with or adopted gender.


scampi75 5 years, 5 months ago

Honestly, it's about time someone called out this issue. The way some people dress and go out in public is unbelievable. Do they not have a mirror in their house? Who needs Walmart!


bobneville 5 years, 5 months ago

See why i am not a Christian?not one word from the holy ones,they are to busy trying to get the guv..to stop the bill that look like it may stop or look into their money washing bussines,and tings of that nature,they should have jumped on this dress code for the bahamas not just immigration but every public office and business,,. in the country.But what do they care,more corruption brings less deginity,which generate more bad money,money,for the church,or so they say,check em out tq anyway I agree with the dress code 139%


sheeprunner12 5 years, 5 months ago

The broken window syndrome .......... small things create big problems ....... that is where we are heading ........ slackness begets more slackness.


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