Women’s rights activists say Uganda’s new anti-pornography law is being misinterpreted and encouraging violence against women. There have been several incidents of women being harassed and even undressed by mobs on the streets of the capital since the law was passed this month.
This rash of violence follows the announcement February 19 of a new anti-pornography bill that originally included a dress code banning miniskirts and other revealing clothing.
The dress code provision was removed before the bill was passed. But when Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo announced the new law last week, he insisted it was now illegal to wear clothing deemed sexually exciting.
Patience Akumu - an activist with a new group called End Miniskirt Harassment - says misinterpretation of the law has been devastating for Ugandan women.
“The damage is extensive, it has been done. Women are being undressed. It’s going to take more than a press statement, more than a protest. We are determined to go to these men, we are going to the boda boda stages, and telling them there is no law against miniskirts,” she said.
Both the Anti-Pornography Bill and the recently-signed Anti-Homosexuality Bill - while condemned by the West - are popular with the conservative Ugandan public.
The government has made no effort to clarify the law, says Akumu, because they think the idea of controlling women’s behavior will help in the 2016 elections.
“I think women have become an easy target, a scapegoat for all the problems. They know this isn’t in the law, but they are enjoying the cheap popularity that this is getting them, the fact that the masses think that government has been able to subdue women [and] police them. The leaders are rolling with it because they think it is good for votes. They do not care about the lives, the livelihoods, the dignity of women,” she said.
Several activists say they are considering taking legal action against Lokodo. In the meantime, they say, police need to do more to protect Ugandan women against mob violence.