Honestly! Is legislation prohibiting miniskirts Uganda’s most pressing need?

by Barbara Kitui*

The government of Uganda has proposed legislation that bans women from wearing miniskirts in public. Through the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity, the said Anti-Pornography bill (APB), now commonly called the ‘miniskirt bill’ was tabled before Uganda’s ninth parliament by the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Reverend Father Simon Lokodo (a former Roman Catholic priest) supported by the Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi. During the tyrannical era of Idi Amin, a decree was issued banning mini-skirts in Uganda. The decree became obsolete after Amin’s overthrow in 1979. Currently, the APB is before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee for deliberation.

Female protesters in South Africa. Source

The APB proposes a fine of Ug. Shs.10,000,000 (USD3,800) or a jail sentence not exceeding 10 years or both if found guilty of abetting pornography. Under the APB, pornography is defined as any obscene cultural practice or behaviour or form of communication or speech or information or literature or publication in whole or publication in part or news story or entertainment or stage play or broadcast music or dance or arts or graphic or picture or photography or video recording or leisure activity or show or exhibition.

A combination of the above mentioned behaviours that shows unclothed or under clothed parts of the human body including breasts, thighs, buttocks, genitalia, a person engaged in explicit sexual activities or conduct, erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement and indecent behaviour intended to corrupt morals is also banned.

The Government firmly argued that the APB focuses on criminalising the practice of pornography which the penal code does not. Despite advice from the Uganda Communications Commission (the statutory body that deals with communication in Uganda), the Government has not taken heed that the APB might replicate the already existing and comprehensive section 166 of the Penal Code Act Cap 120 (PCA). Section 166 of the PCA provides for trafficking obscene publications and includes most of what is restated in the APB. If the APB is enacted, it will repeal the provisions of section 166 PCA.

Interestingly, while the APB is in the offing, there are communities in East Africa like the Karamojong, a tribe from north-eastern Uganda where the women only clothe themselves in traditional animal skin, bead wrappers around their waists and bare breasts. The Karamojong men only wear wrappers without any undergarments. The issue remains whether or not their innocent display and enjoyment of culture amounts to pornography. The Government argues that they want to preserve the dignity of society, hence the need for the legislation.

Irrespective of whether or not the proposed APB may be justified, it comes at a time when Uganda is grappling with serious issues including but not limited to corruption, high maternal mortality, child mortality, high unemployment, child sacrifice, food security, infrastructural underdevelopment, case backlog in the justice system, unlawful curtailment of the enjoyment of civil and political rights, and a poor education system.

Before descending into people’s wardrobes, there is need for government to ensure that women have access to antenatal and postnatal care for women. Health facilities should be constructed, corrupt officers prosecuted, more judges should be recruited so that cases are heard expeditiously, the Uganda Police Force should stop arbitrarily arresting people, and education systems should be revamped so that ministers can be proud to enrol their children or grandchildren in Universal Primary Education schools - the list goes on. Only when this is done will government divert society into attempting to legislate morality – which is another contentious issue that is not the focus of this brief.

Any purposeful and foresighted government would centre its energies on elevating the livelihood of their citizens and persons living within their jurisdiction. Any derailment from that goal is a clear reflection of a situation that is going wrong. Sadly, this is symptomatic of Uganda. The leaders of the day are lost in debates which are secondary to the needs of the ordinary person. As I conclude, I forlornly anticipate the day when our leaders will rise up to fulfil constitutional rights, ensure rule of law and fulfil democracy for their people. As for now, one can only patiently wait for the day real issues are discussed and concrete solutions are carved for Uganda.

Barbara Kitui is Editor at Human Rights & Democracy.

Readers are encouraged to quote, reproduce and share this content for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HR&D team.


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