The Wardrobe of Rebellion

Five items that women
have worn for change

Throughout history, a woman's choice of
clothing has been dictated and restricted.

But women have always challenged these rules.

For International Women's Day, 100 Women brings you
five recent rebellious choices from around the world.
Throughout history, a woman's choice of
clothing has been dictated and restricted.

But women have always challenged these rules.

For International Women's Day, 100 Women brings you
five recent rebellious choices from around the world.

Glasses in South Korea

When South Korean news anchor Yim Hyun-ju got into work on 12 April 2018, she ditched her false eyelashes and contact lenses for glasses, and social media exploded.

Ms Yim's previous beauty routine had been typical for female news anchors in South Korea. Every morning she had spent an hour being made up before struggling with the discomfort of her lenses under bright studio lights. She needed to use eye drops every day.

"I'd grown up with Korea's so called 'presenter style' - immaculate hair and make-up, tightly fitting formal suits and high heels," Ms Yim, 35, tells the BBC.

"You have no choice but to play the part of the 'beauty', but I always felt stressed."

She had spent three weeks wrestling with the dilemma of whether to switch to glasses.

On the day, she sensed disapproval from some members of the newsroom. But after her first interview with the press, many commentators applauded her choice, and she decided to persist.

What Ms Yim didn't predict was how her story might still resonate with women all over the world a year on.

"Thanks for breaking the invisible taboo - I was motivated by you and finally have the courage to wear glasses after many years," one woman recently posted on Ms Yim's social media account.

Even South Korean airline Jeju has followed suit, lifting its ban on glasses for its female stewards.

An entire movement called 'escape the corset' has caught on in South Korea, with women shaving their hair and going without make-up to challenge received beauty ideals.

"When I dropped the pressure of having to be 'beautiful', I discovered who I really am," says Ms Yim.

Trousers in Sudan

In October 2018, Sudanese singer Mona Magdi Salim was arrested by Sudan's public order police after a photograph of her performing at an event in the capital of Khartoum circulated on social media.

Ms Salim's crime? Wearing trousers. The law she was accused of having broken? Sudan's public decency law.

Sharia is a leading source of legislation in Sudan. The Koran mainly makes only general points about clothing but stresses the importance of modest dress.

Ms Salim would have likely been sentenced to 'not more than 40 lashes, a fine, or both', according to Sudanese law. But the court suspended her case.

Illustration of the controversial trousers.

Illustration of the controversial trousers.

People have also fallen foul of the law for not wearing a hijab, or for having a particular hair style, or for wearing make-up. The latter was even the case for men who in 2010 wore it on a TV show.

But critics have described the law as particularly oppressive towards women.

Despite existing for 28 years, the law does not specifically define what indecent dressing is, leaving its interpretation to the judgement of the public order police and prosecutors.

This, human rights bodies say, means it is ripe for abuse.

Sudanese journalists and human rights activists had tried for years to shine a spotlight on the law, but it wasn’t until after the arrest of journalist and former UN employee Lubna Ahmed Hussein in 2009 that the matter gained global attention.

For her court hearing, Ms Hussein chose to wear the same clothes she was arrested in.

Ms Hussein holds a caption reading: "Know your rights, so you're not oppressed"

Ms Hussein holds a caption reading: "Know your rights, so you're not oppressed"

“Unfortunately before my case many women who were victims were silent because society itself would not stand in solidarity with them,” Ms Hussein tells the BBC.

“After my case, because international media carried the story, I had the support of women and human rights defenders to [help people realise] that the women who had been arrested under the law were not actually criminals but victims.”

Smocks in Tunisia

It wasn't about fashion. It wasn't about expression. It wasn't even that the smock was uncomfortable.

"It was that we were required to wear it but boys weren't," Siwar Tebourbi, now 20, tells the BBC.

Ms Tebourbi's high school, like most schools in Tunisia, had a code of conduct for its students. One stipulation was that girls had to wear a loose navy blue smock over their clothes.

The smock was a requirement for both girls and boys in primary school, but in high school only girls had to wear it.

Supervisors at the school defended the smock. They argued that girls' bodies were distracting the opposite sex - including male teachers.

"In our final year of high school some of us stopped wearing it," Ms Tebourbi says.

One day, a few weeks after Ms Tebourbi and her friends had dropped the smock, a supervisor warned the schoolgirl that she was at risk of expulsion. She and her friends mobilised.

Around 70 girls and boys of Pioneer High School came to school the next day - 30 November 2017 - wearing white T-shirts with the words "No Discrimination" on them.

The group took a photo of their white-shirt rebellion on the day

The group took a photo of their white-shirt rebellion on the day

They called their campaign 'Manish Lab-setha' - 'I won't wear it.'

Ms Tebourbi tells the BBC that some other schools in Tunisia also rebelled.

"We received emails from all around the world. Women in India, America, France, all got in touch encouraging us," she says. "We heard that girls in other schools also stopped wearing their smocks."

Not everyone was supportive.

Some responded saying: "Don't you think Tunisia has bigger problems than a smock?"

But she says the attitude of her and her friends was: "Well, we are part of a bigger conversation about young women in North Africa."

Ms Tebourbi says that since the revolution of 2011, her country has been rethinking what form modern Tunisia should take. Women's rights were a central component of the new 2014 constitution - article 46 stated that all forms of discrimination against women should be eliminated.

'Manish Lab-setha' captured international headlines, but the school did not respond. Ms Teroubi and dozens of her friends ditched the smock for the remainder of the school year.

Veils in Denmark

Sarah Ali was walking down the street with her eight-year-old son. “If the police stop us, don't get afraid,” she reminded him. “We just don’t have the same rights as other people.”

Sarah lives in Denmark, where the niqab – a veil covering the face, leaving only the eyes visible – is banned in public. But she still wears hers.

Sarah Ali wearing her niqab

Sarah Ali wearing her niqab

"There are only 30-50 women in Denmark who wear the niqab," she tells the BBC. "Most of us are very active in local communities. Now they want to punish us for basically dressing."

Denmark has followed the lead of other European countries, such as France and Belgium, in banning clothing which obscures the face. The law prohibits any face coverage, with the exception of "reasonable" cases. Otherwise, the fine is 1,000 Danish Krone ($150).

The bill was passed through parliament with a strong majority, but has split Danish society. Many welcome the restrictions on a garment they see as oppressive for women, while others view the ban as racist and anti-Muslim.

While only 13 Danish women were fined during its first six months, several defy the new law on a daily basis. Moving around the streets, they risk being reported to the police at any time.

On the day the Danish law was introduced protests took place in the capital


On the day the Danish law was
 introduced protests took place in the capital

"As soon as I step out my front door, my heart is in my throat," one woman told Danish Public Service.

Ms Ali is a founding member of Kvinder i Dialog, Women in Dialogue, a group that encourages people to listen to the opinions of the women who wear niqabs.

While several European countries have banned the full-face veil in public, in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia it is mandatory for women to keep their head covered in public. Sarah Ali's personal hope is that the focus switches to what the niqab-wearing women themselves think.

"Muslim women have been dehumanised," she says. "Once that happens, our rights can be taken away so quickly. I've not done anything, but suddenly my clothes are illegal."

A jumpsuit in Brazil

The day before her swearing-in ceremony, Ana Paula da Silva went shopping. She wanted to choose her outfit carefully for such an important moment - she was the newly elected lawmaker of Brazil's southern state of Santa Catarina.

"I tried on hundreds of clothes. Nothing worked. Until I found the red pantsuit," she tells the BBC.

The photos of Ana Paula's speech that day went viral, but not because of its contents. She got home that night to find an avalanche of messages on social media.

"I was shocked with the aggressiveness. People said I was a whore, that I couldn't even complain if I was raped," Ms da Silva said.

The lawmaker says she never imagined such a reaction.

"The problem was that there were 40 men and only five women [at the ceremony]. That's how politics are in Brazil. If there were 20 of us [women], don't you think that there would be more of them showing cleavage? I keep looking at this picture and thinking: 'What is wrong with my clothes?' I don't think it was inappropriate because my clothes are in accordance with the protocol."

The protocol of Brazil's parliament states that women should not wear skirts or dresses shorter than above the knee and that men should never wear shorts. But the rules say nothing about cleavage.

“I spent my whole life holding myself back, doing things I didn't want to do because that was what society expected from me. I spent so many years wearing clothes I didn't like because they were what my husband approved of. But after my divorce, I realised it was time to be myself,” she says.

She argues that there isn't a level playing field when it comes to men and women’s fashion.

"If it was a man with his shirt unbuttoned for such a ceremony, nothing like this would have happened. Maybe a few comments saying he should have worn better clothes. But nobody would make personal judgments, or say he is a hustler, or doubt his character.

"People never admit they are sexist, but this episode shows the sexism that is still hidden in society."

The day before her swearing-in ceremony, Ana Paula da Silva went shopping. She wanted to choose her outfit carefully for such an important moment - she was the newly elected lawmaker of Brazil's southern state of Santa Catarina.

"I tried on hundreds of clothes. Nothing worked. Until I found the red pantsuit," she tells the BBC.

The photos of Ana Paula's speech that day went viral, but not because of its contents. She got home that night to find an avalanche of messages on social media.

"I was shocked with the aggressiveness. People said I was a whore, that I couldn't even complain if I was raped," Ms da Silva said.

The lawmaker says she never imagined such a reaction.

"The problem was that there were 40 men and only five women [at the ceremony]. That's how politics are in Brazil. If there were 20 of us [women], don't you think that there would be more of them showing cleavage? I keep looking at this picture and thinking: 'What is wrong with my clothes?' I don't think it was inappropriate because my clothes are in accordance with the protocol."

The protocol of Brazil's parliament states that women should not wear skirts or dresses shorter than above the knee and that men should never wear shorts. But the rules say nothing about cleavage.

“I spent my whole life holding myself back, doing things I didn't want to do because that was what society expected from me. I spent so many years wearing clothes I didn't like because they were what my husband approved of. But after my divorce, I realised it was time to be myself,” she says.

She argues that there isn't a level playing field when it comes to men and women’s fashion.

"If it was a man with his shirt unbuttoned for such a ceremony, nothing like this would have happened. Maybe a few comments saying he should have worn better clothes. But nobody would make personal judgments, or say he is a hustler, or doubt his character.

"People never admit they are sexist, but this episode shows the sexism that is still hidden in society."