The Ugandan government is touting a sweeping controversial anti-pornography legislation that outlaws revealing clothing. The bill covers issues related to pornography, including child pornography, pornographic publications and even suggestive music videos.

Ugandan Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said that it is now forbidden to wear any clothing that could be deemed sexually exciting.

“If you dress in such a way that you irritate the mind and excite the people then you are badly dressed; if you draw the attention of the other person outside there with a malicious purpose of exciting and stimulating him or her into sex,” he said. “Put on a miniskirt but please don’t expose your thighs, your buttocks and your genitalia. Finished.”

 “Put on a miniskirt but please don’t expose your thighs, your buttocks and your genitalia. Finished.”

Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, suggested that victims of sexual violence invited trouble. “One can wear what one wants, but please do not be provocative,” he said. “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?”

Read: Why you can’t blame a mini-skirt

Assertions of the anti-pornography bill are 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 10m shillings (£2,515) fine or a maximum of 10 years in jail, or both.

For television and production materials for broadcast, Lokodo said. “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,” he added.

Mini skirts are rape provoking fashion Minister Simon Lokodo says. Photo: Luca Gargano/Flickr

Lokodo expressed confidence that the bill would be passed. But according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, the parliamentary committee stage is proving otherwise 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.

Uganda’s former Ethics and Integrity Minister, Miria Matembe, said that she, along with members of the End Miniskirt Harassment coalition and other women activists would move a vote of no confidence against Lokodo and demand for the law to be withdrawn.

“This whole idea is absurd. I don’t condone indecency or do I condone pornography but this law cannot be used as a pretext to cure the moral decadence and ethical degeneration in this country. My biggest disappointment is that 33 per cent of that parliament is constituted of women and they were able to subscribe and pass a law whose definition of pornography is so vague that it talks about representing one’s sexual parts for primarily exciting people.”

Street harassment

According to a report by Uganda’s New Vision newspaper, in the eastern part of the country, seven men were arrested for allegedly targeting women in miniskirts and stripping them naked. According to a different report in the Daily Monitor, mobs, including bikers claiming to help police enforce the law, have undressed eight women wearing miniskirts and even two men wearing low-slung trousers, in Eastern Uganda.

Read: University of Lagos bans short and tight fitting clothes

Elsewhere women confirm that the level of street harassment is intensifying. “Sexual harassment has been taking place in this country for some time,” says Nargis Shirazi, 29, an activist who works for the Woman to Woman Foundation in Kampala. “Now it’s like the locals have a reason to stand up and use violence. If we don’t do anything about it, it’s going to get worse.”

However police warned the public against invoking the “anti-miniskirt bill” to strip women in public. Explaining that the law was not yet operational and is being reviewed against a set of procedures and guidelines before police can be instructed, the statement concludes: “The law does not criminalize mini dresses.”

#SaveMiniSkirt

The proposed law would mark a revival of dictator Idi Amin’s 1970s law, which was on the statute books until 2002. Ugandans opposed to the idea created the Twitter hashtag, #SaveMiniSkirt.

In a peaceful protest organized by the End Mini-Skirt Harassment Coalition a horde of female activists and their supporters, including men, gathered at the Uganda National Theatre in Kampala. Women, many clad in black miniskirts and above-the-knee dresses, carried signs that read “Thou shall not touch my miniskirt“, “Lokodo hold your libido“, “my body my business” er. al.

“Uganda should dress its population in nothing but onesies,”

“Uganda should dress its population in nothing but onesies,” wrote the organizers of Kampala’s monthly Fashion Corps event on their Facebook page. “These ubiquitous adult baby-gro’s (growers) cover up those naughty breasts, buttocks and thighs and as an unexpected side-benefit they quickly dampen any sexual ardor between wearers, whatever their gender.”

One of the event organizers said she was even harassed when she went to the police headquarters to seek permission to hold the march.

File picture. A woman in the My Dress My Choice protests of 2014 against sexual abuse and slut-shaming in Nairobi. Photo: AP

“I was wearing a dress I considered official. Policeman after policeman – low-ranking, high-ranking – they each told me, ‘You cannot enter this place in that miniskirt,'” Patience Akumu told the BBC. Ms. Akumu said some officers then manhandled her and confiscated her phone when she took pictures of them.

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.”

Rita Achiro of the Uganda Women’s Network, a rights advocacy group, said such legislated control over women’s bodies sets a dangerous precedent for women’s rights.

“Such laws actually take a country like Uganda backwards in regards to women’s empowerment. I do not want to look at it just as the miniskirt, but rather look at it from controlling women’s bodies, and eventually that will end up into actual total control of women,” she said.

Achiro also argued strongly against the law’s implication that the way a woman dresses incites a man to rape, pointing out that in many Ugandan cultures Western-style dress is a comparatively new phenomenon. For centuries women in these cultures wore very little clothing at all, she said, and yet rape was neither common nor tolerated.

The law had emboldened men to abuse women, Ms. Achiro said. “Now people are freer to do it openly. They are going to judge women according to what they see as indecent because there are no parameters defined by law. That has really put women at risk in this country.”