Properly dressed or it’s ‘don’t come in’


Tribune Staff Reporter

PEOPLE must be “properly dressed” when they come to the government building, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette said yesterday in answer to reports that women have been turned away from the Department of Immigration for wearing shorts. 

“Proper dress at immigration, or don’t come in,” Mr Symonette told The Tribune when contacted about the claims posted to social media.

He added there are signs at the gate reiterating this rule and others which govern dress and behaviour at the facility.

Yesterday morning, a woman posted about her experience in a popular local Facebook group.

“Just tried to walk in to immigration to pay for a work permit renewal and got turned away because I’m wearing shorts,” she wrote.

“What year are we in? And who is so special in that rat-infested building that we need to be so-called ‘properly dressed’ to get in. This country is screwed up.”

At the time, the post had 70 “likes” and more than 74 comments, many of which were in support of the woman.

Another woman commented that she too had been turned away from the Department of Immigration because she was wearing a sleeveless, knee-length dress that she had worn to work.   

However, Mr Symonette defended the rule. 

“We’re having people properly dressed to come into immigration, not sloppily dressed. Is that a problem?” he asked.

“If you see what people wear and carry on when they come into (the Department of) Immigration — we’re trying to improve the ambience here. There’s a large sign outside that (speaks) about properly dressed, no swearing, no bunch of other stuff,” he continued.

Mr Symonette elaborated that “properly dressed” refers to “respectable clothing”.

When asked about concerns that such rules perpetuate ‘slut-shaming’, Mr Symonette replied: “Then fine. Then fine. And they’re applying to the government of the Bahamas for a permit from the government of the Bahamas? Please. That’s reflective as well.”

Macmillan Dictionary defines slut-shaming as “criticism of a woman for any form of sexual behaviour that is disapproved of, such as having more than one sexual partner or wearing sexy clothes.”

Mr Symonette, however, noted the rules apply to both men and women.

“That goes for everybody,” he said. “Proper dress at immigration, or don’t come in.

“I don’t see what a big issue is about it. She felt offended, I’m sorry about that. Maybe the officer spoke to her in the wrong way. But before you get in the gate there’s a big sign that says about it.”

There was a significant public outcry in late 2016 when The Tribune exclusively revealed some women were turned away from voter registration sites because of what officials called “improper” attire. In December 2016, then Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall defended the right of his staff not to process people because of their clothing, telling The Tribune that women registering to vote with “half their breasts out” was not permitted.

This came after a pregnant woman who did not want to be identified, told The Tribune she was told by registration officials at the Elizabeth Estates Post Office that she would not be allowed to register to vote on separate occasions because of what she was wearing at the time.

Later a lawyer claimed she was “physically removed” from the Cable Beach Post Office by police, after she refused to accept she could not register because she “had on a sleeveless dress”.

A subsequent outcry from the public and politicians prompted then Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage to announce a person’s attire should not bar them for voter registration.