Apr 10, 2013

This isn't about rights, sit!

Ladies and Gents, the silly season is upon us. And you’re probably asking, “pray tell, what is this season’s scintillating topic?” Well, it’s a perennial favourite. Drum roll, please…

Obsessing over women’s dress

In Uganda there’s a bill before parliament known as the anti-Pornography Bill. The legislation’s primary sponsor, Simon Lokodo, Uganda's ethics and integrity minister, has 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.'” He further argues that this proposed law would be for the benefit of women as a means of protecting them from exploitation and curbing immorality.

It doesn’t end there. There is also language that would give the government of Uganda sweeping powers to censor cultural practices, television, movies, internet sites they deem to be inappropriate for depicting sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks and genitalia. In the minister’s words there would be a monitoring system to detect what people are looking at and these crimes of course come prescribed fines and prison terms for violators.

In Zambia, a high court judge was recently quoted in the media calling for police officers to arrest anyone found to be indecently dressed to avoid escalating Gender Based Violence cases. Her interpretation of the criminal code has led her to believe that there is law that allows people to be arrested and prosecuted for indecent dress. Last I checked this is not the case but I’m sure that won’t stop some overzealous cops for picking up a few women dressed in miniskirts, low-rise skinny jeans or halter tops, harassing and subjecting them to undue stress. And if all else fails, we have mob justice to do that job. 

Right on the heels of this unfortunate statement, a young woman in the Copperbelt town of Ndola was stripped naked in protest of what was deemed to be indecent dress. And from what has been reported women vendors led the charge. Oh, they must be so proud. Apparently their displeasure in another’s choice of dress gives them the right to lay their hands on her and thus humiliate her in public. And to what end, my people?

There is also the case of the young woman in Nyeri, Kenya who was stripped naked and groped in a market area and had to be rescued by bystanders. During the evening’s newscast on Kenyan Television Network two newscasters, one of whom a woman herself sporting an above the knees skirt, were captured giggling over the woman’s predicament. Yes, it’s very funny to see women humiliated for the same thing you could be too. 

Gosh, I could keep on with the examples but the crux of this post is the question - why? Why the constant attacks on women and the never-ending politicisation of so-called morality? The refrain is always that women’s dress must be regulated because it will stop the spate of sex crimes and exploitation. This is further augmented by the claim that western-style dress has led to the moral degradation of society and goes against traditional norms.

I posed a question to some male colleagues earlier, and I’ll repeat it here. When the aforementioned brigade decries women’s dress as the cause of men falling victim to their base instincts and being unable to control their beastly urges, is this not insulting? Why do these sweeping and grossly inaccurate statements go unchallenged?

Here are a few facts I think bear sharing. The latest data from Zambia shows that the most affected children by sexual abuse are between the ages of two months to 10 years. We’ve even seen cases reported of babies as young as 2 months old being defiled. In Lusaka alone, police recorded 1,089 defilement cases and 75 rape cases in 2011. Can these crimes be attributed to immoral dress or the evil temptations of female bodies that men find hard to resist even in infants? I think I hear crickets chirping.

Can we start having intelligent debates and come up with tangible solutions on these very serious matters without peddling worn out, and easily debunked distractive moral stances? It’s tiresome. To call it as it is, policing women’s dress is a thinly veiled attempt to control women’s bodies through oppression. The taunting, attacks and public stripping must end. 


You make some very valid points,Miss Bwalya.The conversation on policing womens' clothing in Africa needs to take on a new turn because the current one is tired,so to speak.I'm amazed at how fellow women are playing a role in the embarrassment of other women.Truly sad.

It's such a distraction from real issues that concern us as people, it's so maddening. Thanks for reading.

MissBwalya, my humble response, if I may is this, as a Ugandan, having lived in both Kenya and Zambia where you've correctly picked some of the cases to make your case here, is that....it is the confirmation that some of us have always shouted about. That there is WAR against and over a woman's body going on. The powers that be have nothing else really to do, I think. They can't help but focus on hammering the woman's body, the immediate environment that surrounds that body.

It is control, control, control. It is wagging war. It is a major distruction of what must really be addressed. To set the masses against the destructive state agents- police, inteliggence. It is a daring provocation to society, once more, to test if anyone has the guts to rise up to challenge.

Otherwise, why would anyone living in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, etc not use the same tough legal and political stance to arrest any leader who has stolen resources meant to save lifes of women, children, the elderly?

It is because, as someone said, may be the law is for the most powerful and wealthy?

Why would a Ugandan Minister propose to legislate backwardness that the National Resistance Movement (NRM) fought against?

The Late Idi Amin Dada, Uganda's former president is said to have forced Ugandans found to wear slippers in public, to eat them! That was law-enforcement at work!

As UGANDANS, we must haste to recover the lost moral authority that corruption has erodded to begin pretending to steer the cause for morality. I can not give what I havenot, it doesn't matter whether I legislate it or not.

By the way, rape levels are reportedly very high in India even when most women dress is long traditional attires. In most Ugandan rural communities, sexual offences are common, a factor that has been exabitaed by so many civil wars. That didn't have anything to do with the lenght of skirts or size of other women dresses, does it?

If my minister really needs to start ethical work, simply ask for release of all young Ugandan women that are incarcerated due to what I call' poverty-offenses'.

Lastly, Uganda as a state party to UN conventions that protect children, youth and women, failed in many cases to protect, fulfil and promote the rights therefrom. What is totally unethical is that then we had to spend fur more money for so many years to fight Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and other rebels, the armed Karimojong warriors as a reactionary measure. As we did that, more women kept on losing lives due to preventable causes!

If the honorable minister need war, that is the war to tackle, not to follow women bodies, women's spaces. My sisters, daughters, mothers need safe space, not virtual prisons.

Conclusion, keep off monitoring and controlling, give real opportunities to women.

STOP women death that occur every 20 minutes. Be angry, take action. Be tough on women, education, employment, and health issues.

Society will handle its morals when freedoms and liberties are encouraged.

Defend and fend for the families and the moral issues will be sorted out. Legislate morals and lose your people.

To pretend to protect women but sneak in a freedom-killer is unethical Mr. Minister! Shame shame every thinks the same.

Another lame law want help. It will fall into the category of the Uganda Enguli Act, a piece of legislation that's been flouted day in day out! What is the point?

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