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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Togo schoolgirls get heads shaved
By Ata Ahli Ahebla
BBC News, Lome

A Togolese schoolgirl with long hair (l) and after her haircut (r)
This girl is in school after getting her hair cropped short
Togolese schoolgirls have been sent home this week to have their heads shaved because teachers say they waste too much time playing with their hair.

Two weeks ago, the education minister urged more moderation in girls' dress and hairstyles in the classroom.

State schools have been accused of acting overzealously by insisting girls have their hair cropped so close.

"I'm angry, I don't want to shave my hair but I have to if I want to resume class," 17-year-old Tina Djobe said.

Schools blame the distraction of fashion for girls' low academic record.


"They must know how to organise themselves and use their time in order to succeed in their studies instead of wasting their time - three hours, sometimes days - with their hair," said Madame Olympio, a teacher at Lycee Nyekonakpoe in the capital, Lome.

They must shave their hair. The government should even legislate on this

"Girls' success rates are lower than boys'," she said.

Pupils from both junior and senior schools have been affected by the schools' ruling and hairdressers in the capital have been doing swift business since Monday morning.

But some girls have been refusing to return to class because they do not want to lose their locks.


The decision has been a big topic of discussion in the capital, with opinions deeply divided.

One parent said he thought it unfair to pick on girls in this way and that the root cause of underachievement was not being tackled.

Another, however, gave his full support to the move.

"They must shave their hair. The government should even legislate on this," he said.

But Difernand Dossou, the president of the students' and parents' association, said schools had misinterpreted the minister's words and that forcing girls to shave their heads was a step too far.

Only state schools are insisting on the head shaving and one girl told me she would now opt to go a private school rather than take a trip to the hairdressers.

What do you make of this move by Togo's schools? Have you been affected by the ruling or by something similar in your country? Do you think it will make girls take their books more seriously or is it just sexist? Does the way you look really affect the way you work?

Let us know your views using the form below and a selection of them will be broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme at 1700 GMT on Saturday 8 October 2005.

The following comment reflect the balance of opinion received so far:

Students who are not going to achieve in school can find many reasons not to focus on their studies. A wide assortment of distractions is always available. Taking away hair has nothing to do with the underlying problems that cause a lack of interest in academic achievement, particularly for women. It may cause exactly the opposite effect intended by lowering these girls' self esteem. After a long and well documented struggle for equality, women in my country still don't earn the same incomes for the same work. The cultural underpinnings that may contribute to a woman's lack of interest in bettering herself academically are many and varied, but I have never heard that it is hairstyles that cause women to fail to rise above the factors that prevent them from valuing themselves!
Savana Moore, Takoma Park, Maryland USA

I think it's a great idea! Look at it from a reasonable, rational standpoint: boys don't have to do much with their hair when it's cropped close, which is the case in most countries. Girls on the other hand usually have a great length of hair, and in order to look presentable it takes them more time to arrange it. I had and still have that same experience and, I think that it's time for some equity between the sexes in terms of their hair. Short hair is both economical and beautiful!
Dione, New Jersey, USA

For girls often tempted by so called 'sugar-daddies', it may be best to encourage them to play down their looks
Mike Costa, USA

It is a shame that teachers are blaming the female students for the teachers' failure in their work. What will they do next? Pluck out boys' eyes for looking at bald girls?
Rana, Nairobi, Kenya

Schools in Ghana have always insisted that girls have short cropped hair since the 1960s. As a female who went through a system like that, I can that it is one of the most necessary policies to impose on teenage African girls. Many people particularly Europeans have no idea how much time we African girls can spend on our hair. There is nothing sexist or improper about the request. In Ghana, girl students in government schools that insist on short cropped natural hair perform better than girls in other schools (ie private schools) that do not insist on that. Asking girls to have short hair is a legitimate request because the girls are in fact very distracted with their hair. In the past, British girls especially in boarding schools were required at some point to have short hair too. The term "shaving" is an exaggeration - they are simply being asked to keep their hair short and natural - free from chemicals. The girl in the picture above looks trim and proper after her hair cut. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Abena Nuamah, Ghanaian in USA

I work in an urban high school in the United States, and hair is a big priority for most of my female students. There are plenty of instances where girls take the day off school to have their hair put into intricate plaits/braids. While I certainly don't condone the importance they place on their appearance when their grades are seriously lacking, I find it difficult to justify forcing them to go so far as to shave their heads before allowing them to return to school. We can't control their taking days off for matters such as this, but we can make sure they serve a consequence as a result. As for distractions in the classroom: There is such a thing as Classroom Management!
Sarah, Cincinnati, USA

I have been a secondary school teacher for more than two years, teaching in the capital, Lilongwe.

I have seen no correlation between hair fashions and class performances. Amazingly, some of those with long and tendered hairs performed exceptionally better than those with the so called shaved hair.

Please, do not pluck the leaf of the problem. Uproot it.
Mathews Joseph Phiri, Mzuzu, Malawi

Teachers are more willing to explain things clearly to boys but tend to dismiss girls
Nike, Nigeria
Good idea, this should be emulated by all the West African countries. Such distractions are real and could even lead them into becoming sexually active. If they are shaved that is a good indication for the men to know they are schoolgirls.
K Anim, UK

I think that its ridiculous to require that these young women must shave their heads in order to continue attending public schools because they are "too concerned" with their looks and not able to focus on learning. This is extremely sexist! This is another way to keep these young women submissive, I strongly do not agree, I think that the way you look definitely affects the way you work, when you look better you feel and work better.
Irene Martinez, NY, United States

I am in the education field and I believe those who want to study they will study with long or short hair. I am not sure where this will lead to. I have a son who is 100% hip hop with his dress code to his hair style and music and I trust my son to do the right thing when it comes to his education.
Thomas C Kantha, Osaka Japan

This is no news in Ghana where I come from. Female students do not grow long hair until they complete their senior secondary education. Those who have stop going to school because of this issue must think twice and go back to school for their own good.
Rebecca Ocran (Ghanaian)

As a teacher I find this story hard to believe. It sounds to me like the administration of the school system in Togo are looking for an excuse for their students' lack of success. Why would they need to go to that extreme? Why not just have the girls wear their hair in a more subdued fashion? I think this is really old fashioned. It is really sad that the people in control feel the need to humiliate and break the spirits of the students that they are supposed to be helping to gain confidence and strength.
Leslie Tubbs, Belton, Tx, USA

This is blatantly sexist and displays the naivety of the establishment. Girls hairstyles are not the cause of their poor academic performance but the socio-economic problems which are disproportionately afflicting women in comparison to men. If the solution was so simple all women in Africa would have cut their hair and Africa would be a success.
Thando Siziba, Birmingham, UK

Seems to me that watching girls spend three hours playing with their hair in school should act as a massive warning that they are being under-stimulated, not negligent! I would agree that the real root causes of their poor performance need to be seriously addressed.
Melissa, Vancouver, Canada

I taught in Tanzanian secondary schools for two years, and what is being described as controversial in Togo was standard practice there. The girls were required to have short hair, and the reason always given was that long hair took time away from their already struggling studies. They were regularly sent to hairdressers if someone in the administration decided the hair was getting too long.

While such behaviour, if directed at me, would generally cause me outrage, I never thought too much about the issue in Tanzania. Students always had a number of impositions placed on them, and the short hair was just one of them. To be fair, the boys had to have short hair too.
Laurel, New York, USA

In Nigeria, the same thing exists in state junior schools as well. Senior girls are allowed to keep their hair long. I think it is outrageous. Africans always deal with the surface issue rather than focusing on the root cause of low academic records among girls, which is the fault of both teachers and parents. More time, effort and resources are put in the education of boys and teachers are more willing to explain things clearly to boys but tend to dismiss girls.
Nike, Lagos, Nigeria

I don't think they should be forcing girls to shave their heads, but I do think that if girls are spending hours on their hair, then this is time that could be better spent.

This reminds me of the hijab bans in schools in some countries (e.g., France and Turkey). It's different, but similar in a way. Should girls be forced to make this choice to be allowed to go to school?

As a Muslim, this also reminds me of one of the advantages of hijab. We don't have to spend hours trying to impress schoolmates with our hairdos; we just cover it with a scarf and are ready to go.
Umm Abdullah, Kuwait City, Kuwait

There is nothing sexist about it at all. Many places in Africa require that school kids have close-cropped hair. It's the norm; the convention. Not only that, its good for hygiene in boarding schools, where lots of kids sleep in close quarters. Not only that, but (at least in Kenya) hair style and sex appeal go hand in hand. For girls often tempted by so called 'sugar-daddies', it may be best to encourage them to play down their looks, at least while they are still in school. Keep in mind the extra risk young African women are at for HIV and pregnancy. 'Sexist' is the wrong take on this one!
Mike Costa, New York, USA

I think making the subjects more interesting would be a better idea than to shave people's heads. It will only make them more angry and distracted.
Badri, Kent, UK

As much as it hurts my inner civil libertarian, I think this is a good move. There are too many cultural biases against female successes in education and professional pursuits as it is. This cropped-hair directive sends a signal that society is recognising a problem it has and trying to correct it. If girls sustain better grades for a generation or two, perhaps there will be no more need for such a rule.
Jordan, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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