By Surihe Gaomas Katima Mulilo Traditionally, especially in African culture, boys wore their hair short while girls were expected to keep theirs long and well kempt in various other ways. In this age, however, both can choose whatever hair fashion suits them. While you may think short hair for women and girls is only a well-known fashion trend in South Africa, then think again because this is fast gaining momentum in Namibia. Women and girls alike can cut their hair short to almost bald these days. One such interesting development is in the Caprivi Region where female learners are being encouraged to keep their hair short. When New Era was in the north-eastern region recently, it became apparent that young girls sitting in a packed hall looked just the same as the boys with their noticeably short hair. It was only by looking at the uniform that one could determine whether the learner was male or female. However, what became interesting were the stories from the girls about their short hairstyles. “It is to help us study and focus more on our school work,” was a comment from one girl. “It is meant to make us look less attractive to boys and men,” said another. Although none of the female learners at the secondary schools in the Caprivi minded looking the same as the boys, some of them actually wanted to have long hair. “I wish I could have long hair, but this is the rule of my school. If you don’t keep your hair short, you will be punished,” said another learner who did not want to be named. When asked what the punishment was, she answered that it was to dig a deep hole and then fill it up again the whole day. Some said the rule of short hair was compulsory. However, after talking to some of the school principals about the role of short hair for female learners, the story turns out differently altogether. Essentially, it is meant to keep the appearances neat and tidy whilst at school. “It is for hygienic reasons. You know for children in the rural areas the set-up and environment are not the same for those in the urban areas. “Because they walk long distances and in dusty conditions, they have to keep their hair short, otherwise it will look untidy,” said Principal Albius Kamwi in a recent interview. Furthermore, the situation of the shortage of water also makes it difficult for them to wash and manage their hair properly, hence the advice for female learners to keep their hair short. Yet, unlike what the learners mentioned earlier, this is not a compulsory rule at all, but rather an advice to them. “We talk to them first and explain the situation for them to understand; it is not a rule of the school,” he added, reiterating that the emphasis is more on looking tidy, just like wearing a school uniform. So far, no complaints have been received by the school authority with regard to this situation. Echoing similar sentiments, principal Kenneth Tebuho of the Sam Nujoma Combined School in the Caprivi said there is no punishment when it comes to wanting to keep your hair longer than usual. However, due to the current circumstances of the rural set-up at these schools it is advisable to keep your hair short while at school. “It’s merely to look presentable, and we are just encouraging them to look smart,” said Tebuho. Currently the Sam Nujoma Combined School has 340 learners and most of them are orphans and vulnerable children. In addition, at this specific school a meeting was also held to reach consensus with the parents of the learners on issues of short hair and the length of their skirts. It was agreed that the grey skirts for girls should be just below the knees for the sake of decency and to look presentable for academic purposes. When New Era tried to seek comment from the other secondary school principals on the issue of short hair, the response from one principal was a question as to why there was a need to look at such a topic while there are many other challenges facing rural schools in the Caprivi Region. These challenges range from rundown classroom buildings to lack of educational facilities, shortage of water and electricity as well as the scarcity of textbooks where, for instance, five learners share one textbook at a time.
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