A university in Colombia has come under fire for advising its female students not to wear miniskirts or “tight-fitting clothes” in case their classmates and teachers became distracted.
Students at the Pontifical Bolivarian University (UPB) in Medellín reacted against the advice posted on the university website, which has since been taken down, labelling it sexist and an “unhelpful” attitude to take in a country that struggles with an overtly “machismo” culture.
In protest, a group of students made global headlines by asking men and women to attend class wearing short skirts on 8 February, posting images of their outfits on social media under the hashtag #UPBenFalda (“UPB in skirts”).
In a heated online debate, university students as well as public figures criticised the university’s message as “dangerous”, arguing that it went beyond simply advocating a dress code.
Colombian journalist Jenny Giraldo said that the “terrible message” of telling female students not to “distract” their peers was “just another way of saying ‘don’t get raped’”.
Student Helena Munera tweeted: “Those who think that we are fighting for our right to wear short skirts or low necklines are very wrong. What we are asking for is an end to messages that encourage disrespect of women.”
Joining the debate, city councillor Daniela Maturana tweeted: “If a woman is wearing a skirt or shorts or whatever she wants to wear, it is not a green light for catcalls or harassment.”
Under the headline of “How should you dress to go to university?”, the offending post, published on 30 January, warned: “There is nothing more uncomfortable than distracting your classmates or teachers. For this reason, we suggest you don’t wear low necklines, short skirts or tight-fitting clothes.”
University representatives have since responded that the comments were meant only as “suggestions” and had mostly been aimed at new students starting at UPB this term.
“The UPB respects the right to express personalities, and has never imposed a dress code on students,” a spokesperson said.