Africa

Uganda Bill criminalises miniskirts

Guardian Reporter

The anti-pornography Bill would outlaw "provocative" clothing on women, censor film and television and restrict personal internet use.

The ANC Women's League in South Africa protested last year after a woman was assaulted at a taxi rank in Johannesburg for wearing a miniskirt. (Gallo)

Uganda is considering extraordinary measures against women's rights that would see arrests for wearing skirts above the knee in public.

The proposed law would mark a return to the era of dictator Idi Amin, who banned short skirts by decree. Many Ugandans are opposed to the idea and it has spawned a Twitter hashtag, #SaveMiniSkirt.

The government-backed Bill would also see many films and television dramas banned and personal internet use closely monitored by officials.

Simon Lokodo, Uganda's ethics and integrity minister, defended the plans. "It's outlawing any indecent dressing including miniskirts," he said.

"Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, are outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her."

Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, went on to suggest that victims of sexual violence invited trouble because of how they dressed. "One can wear what one wants, but please do not be provocative," he continued. "We know people who are indecently dressed: they do it provocatively and sometimes they are attacked. An onlooker is moved to attack her and we want to avoid those areas. He is a criminal but he was also provoked and enticed."

Asked if men would be banned from wearing shorts, the minister replied: "Men are normally not the object of attraction; they are the ones who are provoked. They can go bare-chested on the beach, but would you allow your daughter to go bare-chested?"

Beyoncé and Madonna 
The anti-pornography Bill contends that there has been an "increase in pornographic materials in the Ugandan mass media and nude dancing in the entertainment world". It proposes that anyone found guilty of abetting pornography faces a 10-million shillings (£2 515) fine or a maximum of 10 years in jail, or both.

The likes of Beyoncé and Madonna will be banned from television, Lokodo added. "We are saying anything that exposes private parts of the human body is pornography and anything obscene will be outlawed. Television should not broadcast a sexy person. Certain intimate parts of the body cannot be opened except for a spouse in a private place.

"A lot of photos, television, films will be outlawed. Even on the internet we're going to put a monitoring system so we know who has watched which website and we know who has watched pornographic material."

Lokodo expressed confidence that the Bill will be passed. But according to Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper it has run into difficulty in the parliamentary committee stage after some members expressed concern about its implications for constitutional freedoms. MPs also warned that some traditional cultural practices could be labelled as pornographic, the paper added.

Lokodo has previously courted controversy by announcing a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations he accused of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality. Parliament is still pondering a bill that would impose harsher penalties for gay people.

Sam Akaki, international envoy of Uganda's opposition Forum for Democratic Change, said: "This law will create an apartheid system by stealth. Whereas the former apartheid system in South Africa discriminated [against] people on the basis of race, this one will discriminate people on the basis of gender. Any law that discriminates people in any way is a bad law.

"If Lokodo or anyone in Uganda is serious about fighting immorality, they should fight corruption."

Previous attempt
In 2008, Uganda's government considered a ban on women wearing miniskirts as a measure to combat prostitution and reduce traffic accidents. 

Then minister of ethics and integrity at the time, James Nsaba Buturo, said the government was concerned about women wearing miniskirts, which is seen as promoting immorality and prostitution as well as distracting drivers and causing motor accidents.

"We want to shame these prostitutes who are doing the business, including those who are running brothels," he said.

"Women of 60 years and below are putting on miniskirts and this is crazy. The miniskirt can cause an accident when you are sitting with a woman in a car. Men while driving gaze out when they see these women and this causes accidents," he said.

A decree banning short skirts in the country was issued by the country's late military ruler Idi Amin, but it went out of use after the dictator's ouster in 1979. – Guardian News and Media 2013; additional reporting Sapa

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