Along with gays, Uganda bans the miniskirt

Less noticed than President Museveni's anti-gay bill was a simultaneous anti-porn law that has resulted in women wearing modern garb being publicly stripped and shamed.

Rebecca Vassie/AP
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signs a new anti-gay bill in Entebbe, Uganda, Feb. 24, 2014. On the same day, he approved another law that received far less international attention: the Anti-Pornography Act.

This post appeared in Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Feb. 24 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. On the same day, he approved another law that received far less international attention: the Anti-Pornography Act. The bulk of the this act lays out terms for regulating the producers and promoters of pornographic material, but response to the bill has picked up on the act’s definition of “pornography” – a definition that includes vague references to “indecent show” and, “representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement.”

Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo announced that the act prohibits certain forms of women’s dress, such as miniskirts. This interpretation garnered the act the shorthand nomenclature as the “miniskirt ban.”

At face value, one might see nothing wrong with sartorial regulation that reflects popular ideas about morality. Uganda is hardly alone in this effort. However, in order to understand the consequences of this law, one must first note the condition of Uganda’s police force and judicial apparatus. Prosecution of crimes according to the application of legal principles and procedures is, one might say, inconsistent. It is hard to imagine that the Anti-Pornography Act (and the Anti-Homosexuality Act) will usher in an era of formal arrests and evidence-based trials.

What they will do -- what they have already done -- is sanction violence against women and anyone suspected of “homosexuality.”

The day after the Anti-Pornography Act was signed into law, Ugandan newspapers began issuing reports of women being publicly stripped -- a powerful shaming gesture -- by mobs of men claiming to “help” the police. These attacks were carried out in rural villages and urban centers alike, prompting a demonstration on the grounds of Kampala’s National Theatre, in which women carried signs beseeching, “give us maternal healthcare, don’t undress us in the street.”

I was in a hair salon in Uganda recently when talk turned to this protest, and the law in general. Women spoke of plans to purchase pepper spray and otherwise prepare for the possibility of assault, in a country where violence against women is already endemic.

One woman wondered, half-jokingly, if she should stop dressing her young daughter in short pants. Does the law apply to children? What should we wear to swim? What about pajamas inside one’s own house? Women tossed around a number of questions that the law does not address.

The vagueness of the law suggests that it is not intended as a comprehensive statement about Uganda’s moral compass. Rather, Museveni’s actions this week serve as a distraction, a bone thrown to a public beleaguered by poor healthcare, faltering educational institutions, and increasing intolerance of political dissent.

In other words, the Anti-Pornography Act, together with the Anti-Homosexuality Act, placates a public desperate for any sign of leadership from their president. It is a shame that this sign empowers vigilantes by codifying discrimination against already vulnerable groups.

Brooke Bocast is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Temple University and a visiting predoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Along with gays, Uganda bans the miniskirt
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today