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March 05, 2014

Women Challenge “Mini-skirt Ban” in Uganda’s Intensifying Crackdown

By Simone Salvo

On February 6, just weeks before the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law, Uganda passed another piece of legislation under the guise of promoting morality: the Anti-Pornography Act. By way of a task force, the law aims to eradicate all material and behavior that falls under the wide umbrella of pornography. Innocuous enough, the vaguely worded law prohibits what is broadly defined as “any representation, through publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or stimulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement.”
 
Despite no mention of mini-skirts in the actual legislation, the Anti-Pornography Act quickly accrued the nickname “the mini-skirt ban” for a dress code provision included in the original version of the bill. Pornography to street clothes may seem like quite a leap, but under a government that attributes sexual violence to hemlines, exposed thighs are a root cause of Uganda’s “insidious social problems.”
 
Minister of Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo recently retracted his statement that “anything above the knee” is grounds for arrest, but the ludicrous definition seems to be sticking. Moreover, it’s giving vigilantes an excuse to harass and strip people in “provocative” dress. Last week in the Ignaga district,  there were ten reports of public undressing: eight women and two men.

When police have to issue official reminders that it is a crime to forcibly undress people, it’s clear that the safety and dignity of women is at great risk. 

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Uganda’s women will not stand for it. In an event organized by the END Mini-Skirt Harassment coalition, about 200 Ugandan women in Kampala gathered to express their opposition to  gender-based violence and discrimination. Prevented from marching as planned, the crowd assembled in front of the national theater with signs saying, “My body My business” and “Thou shalt not touch my mini-skirt.”

Although reports indicate that the law has been pulled for review by the President’s cabinet, it remains a threat. Just as the Anti-Homosexuality Act makes sexual minorities more vulnerable to violent and harassment, the Anti-Pornography Law turns women into potential targets.

Human Rights First continues to call on the U.S. government to assess the direction of U.S. human rights policy in Uganda.