Uganda is considering extraordinary measures against women’s rights that would see women arrested for wearing miniskirts above the knee in public.
The proposed law would mark a return to the era of dictator Idi Amin, who banned short skirts by decree. It has met with a hostile reaction from many Ugandans and has spawned a Twitter hashtag, #SaveMiniSkirt.
The government-backed bill would also see many films and TV dramas banned and personal internet use closely monitored by officials.
Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, defended the proposals. “It’s outlawing any indecent dressing including miniskirts,” he said on Friday. “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.”
Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, went on to suggest that victims of sexual violence have invited trouble because of the way they dress. “One can wear what one wants, but please do not be provocative,” he continued. “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?”
The anti-pornography bill contends 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 10 years in jail, or both.
The likes of Beyoncé and Madonna will be banned from television, Lokodo added. “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.”
Lokodo expressed confidence that the bill will pass. But according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, it has run into difficulty in the parliamentary committee stage 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.
Lokodo has previously courted controversy by announcing a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations he accused of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality. Parliament is still pondering a bill that would impose harsher penalties for gay people.