In Depth

Eight things women are banned from wearing around the world

From the Cannes flat shoe ban to the niqab, women are punished for revealing too much – and too little

Women around the world are being punished, criminalised and shamed for wearing clothes that are deemed inappropriate by authorities, with restrictions in place from London to Khartoum.

Here's a list of some of the things women are not allowed to wear:

Flat shoes at Cannes

The film festival has been accused of "tyrannical fashion policing" after reports emerged that a group of women were turned away from a red-carpet premiere for not wearing high heels. The women, some of whom had medical conditions and were their 50's, were wearing rhinestone flats to the opening of Cate Blanchett's new film Carol when they told they would not be allowed to enter, reports The Guardian. Directors and insiders confirmed that the shoe policy was regularly enforced at the event, despite a claim from festival director Thierry Fremaux that the "rumours" were "unfounded". One Cannes regular told Screen Daily: "I've heard this happening several times now, even to older women who can’t wear heels for medical reasons. It's bulls***." The scandal comes as the annual festival attempts to address issues around gender equality and a push for greater female representation in the male-dominated film industry. "So much for the year of women," tweeted Times arts correspondent Jack Malvern.

A tuxedo in Louisiana

A school in Louisiana told straight-A student Claudetteia Love she is not allowed to wear a tuxedo to her high school prom. "[The head teacher] said that the faculty told him they weren't going to work the prom if girls were going to wear tuxes," her mother Geraldine Jackson told regional newspaper The News Star. “Those were his exact words: 'Girls wear dresses and boys wear tuxes, and that's the way it is’."

The veil in France

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld France's ban on wearing the face veil, angering civil rights groups across the continent. Those behind the law argued that it encouraged citizens to "live together". The law makes it illegal for anyone to cover the face in a public space, and although it applies to balaclavas and helmets, critics say it is used to target Muslim women.  "No matter what law is passed on the niqab, it will not stop me from wearing it," Semaa Abdulwali wrote in The Guardian."I don’t want to be controlled and told what I can and cannot wear: that is oppression."

Miniskirts in Uganda

Ugandan president  Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-pornography bill last year, which banned women from dressing "indecently". Dubbed ‘the mini skirt law’ by the local press, the legislation prevents women from revealing their thighs, breasts and buttocks. Campaigners say it has given men the excuse to criticise, humiliate and abuse women who don't follow the rules. "Now people are more free to do it openly. They are going to judge women according to what they see as indecent because there are no parameters defined by law,” Rita Achiro, executive director of the Uganda Women's Network told the BBC.

Lace underwear in Kazakhstan

Dozens of women protesting against a ban on lacy underwear were arrested in Kazakhstan a year ago. They were bundled into police vans while wearing underwear on the heads and shouting: "Freedom to panties!" 

Since then, women in Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus have been denied the right to choose their underwear, after a "draconian trade ban" was introduced, prohibiting the import, production or sale of synthetic lace underwear. Officials advised women to wear more breathable fabrics, like cotton, for better vaginal health, but campaigners said bureaucrats shouldn't be "poking into women's knickers", Australian newspaper Daily Life reported.

Red lipstick on the BBC

Television presenters on the BBC's children's television channel CBBC were banned from wearing red lip stick on air because it was too provocative. "We know that a lot of young girls will look at how our presenters are dressed, and they shouldn't look too sexy," said Melissa Hardinge, executive editor of CBBC Independents. Cosmopolitan's Bridget March responded: "While we applaud their concern, we don't know if censoring women's appearances is the way to fix it."

Leggings in the United States

In February, Republican lawmaker David Moore introduced a bill which would ban women from wearing "any device, costume, or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region". Similar rules have emerged across the US, with several schools banning girls from wearing yoga pants and other tight-fitting clothing that could "distract" boys. Such legislation sends the message that women's bodies are an "invitation for sexual aggression unless they cover up," wrote Tara Culp-Ressler in Think Progress.

Trousers in Sudan

Women and girls in Sudan can be arrested by police and sentenced to public flogging for wearing trousers or leaving their hair uncovered, reported Amnesty International's Amal Habani. The country's public order laws are applied arbitrarily to the detriment of women and girls and fail to adhere to Sudan’s human rights obligations, she said. In 2012, Habani was detained, beaten and tortured by police for demanding that Sudanese women be given the right to choose what they wear.  

Picture courtesy of Sabine

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