Column: Human Rights & Clothing Connection

September 30, 2022

[Column written by Bermuda Is Love]

Bermuda Is Love has launched a campaign titled #NoNewClothes where we are challenging the public to purchase #NoNewClothes for the month of September [30 days]. As part of the campaign, we will be publishing weekly articles highlighting the problem of fast fashion and what we as consumers can do about it. Please read our fifth article titled ‘What is the connection between human rights and clothing?’ and take the #NoNewClothes pledge.

The importance of our clothing

Fashion and clothing give meaning to our collective human identity. Fashion is who we are. It defines our culture and our sense of belonging and plays an intricate part of life in the 21st century. But it should not be place of exploitation, of abuse, or environmental degradation. Fashion must stand as a bulwark against racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination. Fashion must stand against all forms of human rights abuse. But it must not only stand against, but also stand in favor of a better world..

Through fashion we can dream of a better world. Fashion can provide a new way of existing, a unique space for imagination, for hope, for aspiration. Fashion represents a world of inclusion, diversity, and love. A world in which we can all live together in harmony. A world where poverty does not exist. A world where everyone has free and equal access to any and all clothing that they desire. Where everyone can use fashion as a sense of self expression. Where people can be whatever they want without being judged or criticized. Once we realize the importance of our clothing, we can recognize the importance of each other, and this can only help to create more positive outcomes for everyone.

The human right to clothing

Clothing is a basic human need and a human right. Everyone should have equal access to affordable, sustainable clothing. Clothing is required for survival, hygiene, and protection. Those unable to afford appropriate clothing risk falling ill in the cold, and risk life threatening sun exposure or heat stroke in the sun. Increasingly, clothing such as facemasks, can provide vital protection from a potentially fatal virus. Together with the right to food and the right to housing, the right to clothing forms parts of the right to an adequate standard of living, recognized under Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to an adequate standard of living is something that is needed to be ensured so to prevent people from living below the poverty line and ensuring that everyone’s basic needs are met.

The cost of the pandemic

The impact of Covid-19 has resulted in lost jobs and incomes. For many families this added financial strain has meant clothing becoming less affordable. This results in many people not having the means to afford essential clothing, such as school uniforms, work outfits or facemasks. What we don’t want is for kids to have to take days off school or be sent home because they do not have proper school clothes; or for a person to not get a job because they do not have the proper work attire; or for a person to be stigmatized for not having access to clean affordable clothes. Clothing must be seen as a human right, something that is intrinsic to our survival and our quality of life.

Dignity and self-confidence

The right to clothing helps to maintain self-confidence and dignity, by giving people the opportunity to represent themselves how they want to be seen. For example, not owning professional wear, or a suitable interview outfit can be a huge barrier facing people seeking work. First impressions may be unconscious or conscious but are influenced by outward appearances. By ensuring that everyone has access to clothes we can empower individuals to feel stronger and more confident, so that they can move toward self-sufficiency. However, this is also a reminder that what you wear should not and does not define you. Whether in a suit, jeans or sweats every person should be treated with respect and dignity, and afforded human rights, regardless of who they are, what they wear, where they come from or what they believe.

Identity and self-respect

The right to adequate clothing is more than a physical necessity but forms an important role in identity. Clothing is a visible expression of culture, religion, and individual identity. From the hijab to the kimono to the gombey, clothing helps to represent who we are and what we believe. The right to clothing relates directly to how we view ourselves. By ensuring that everyone has access to clothes we can ensure that people are able to express themselves how they want to be seen, promoting freedom of belief and expression and identity and therefore respect for ourselves. Further, the right to adequate clothing helps to maintain our well-being, self-esteem, and our ability to find our place in society.

Disability rights

For disabled people regular clothes can be inaccessible and cause discomfort. For example, buttons are problematic for those with limited motor skills. Adaptive fashion, which is clothing specifically designed for disabled people, encompasses everything from easy-access magnetic buttons to Velcro fastenings that help with undressing. However, adaptive wear is relatively expensive and not widely available to the people who may need it most. Thus, the right to clothing must be inclusive and factor in a range of accessibility requirements.

Do you know where your clothes come from?

Western consumers have a huge amount of choice over what they wear mainly because poor people across the developing world grow cotton, dye materials and stitch fabric, and are paid low wages which keep clothes cheap for consumers to buy. These low wage levels do not allow cotton farmers and factory workers to consume the very garments they help make, and so further entrench global inequality. Overconsumption in the West then leads to the flow of used clothing back to the poor people of the Global South, as second-hand garments, which locks them into a relationship of dependency. Such divisions of labour in the clothing industry play their part in keeping places of new consumption rich and areas of production and secondhand consumption poor.

The end of poverty

The goal of the human right to clothing and the right to an adequate standard of living, is to lessen the impact of poverty on people around the world, to help give more people access to a better quality of life. However, in order to tackle the issue of why poverty exists in the first place, we must rethink how it is that we want our society to be structured. We must stop our overconsumption of products and materials. We must value ourselves as having intrinsic value, regardless of what we may buy or own. We must look to provide resources and hope to those who have none. We must see the importance of humanity, that poverty, hunger, etc. are insults to our collective consciousness. And we must see each other as important collaborative partners in the fight against global poverty.


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