When President signed the Anti-Pornography Bill into law, there was uproar on social media, especially by a section of women and even men. Some of the comments were sarcastic, others outright attacks on Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo – a key proponent of the legislation.
Some people took the criticism to another level, mocking the state of affairs in the country by questioning how a ‘useless law’ can take up people’s time and attention when critical issues face the common man every day.
Interestingly, on Facebook and twitter, majority of the ‘laments’ are about the miniskirt, and how women will be in trouble if they wore them. This line of argument was further emphasized by some media outlets, who reported that the Anti-Pornography Act has outlawed miniskirts.
For instance, the New Vision ran the story with the headline “Women face 10 years over dressing”. The intro of the story says; “Indecently dressed women, if arrested and found guilty, will be fined Sh10m or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, according to the anti-pornography law which President Yoweri Museveni has signed.”
However, the online version of the New Vision story carried the headline, “Uganda bans miniskirts, pornography”. The story then continued thus; “President Yoweri Museveni has signed a law which criminalizes indecency and promotion of pornography. Henceforth, women have been forbidden from wearing clothes like miniskirts and cleavage-revealing blouses (‘tops’) that excite sexual cravings in public, unless for educational and medical purposes or during sports or cultural events.”
The Daily Monitor had a story with the headline; “Tough penalties loom as Museveni signs Anti-Pornography Bill into Law”. The story goes on to say; “Promoters of pornographic material could soon be in trouble after the President signed the Anti-Pornography Bill, 2011 into law. Publishers, broadcasters, film importers and exporters, artists, bar owners and internet café operators are the likely culprits.”
The story then proceeds to give the definition of pornography according to the Act and then stated; “Under this definition, people who skimpily dress may fall prey to the legislation.”
The Red Pepper on the other carried the story with the headline, “Museveni signs Anti-pornography Bill into Law”. The story intro states: “President Yoweri Museveni has signed the Anti-Pornography Bill into law, exactly two months to the day it was passed by Parliament on December 19.”
The Act defines pornography as; “Any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent show, information technology, or by whatever means of a person engaged in real or stimulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of sexual parts of a person for primary sexual excitement.”
There is no mention of ‘miniskirt’ in the definition and in the Act as a whole and no mention of indecency either.
Possible source of controversy
Before the law was passed, the Bill defined pornography as;
“Any cultural practice, radio or television programme, writing, publication, advertisement, broadcast, upload on internet, display, entertainment, music, dance, picture, audio or video recording, show, exhibition or any combination of the preceeding that depicts;
a) a person engaged in explicitly sexual activities or conduct;
b) sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks or genitalia;
c) erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement; or
d) any indecent act or behaviour tending to corrupt morals
The Bill also didn’t carry the word ‘miniskirt’. However, basing on the above definition, one could rightly deduce that miniskirts are the ‘target’ of the law since they expose ‘thighs and buttocks or genitalia”. And according to Nicholas Opiyo, a lawyer, the reference to the miniskirt is derived from the above definition.
Even with most of the above sections dropped in the Act, the general understanding of the law is that it is a miniskirt law. The situation has not been helped by utterances by the Ethics Minister Lokodo, who newspapers quote as ‘warning women against wearing miniskirts”.
According to the Daily Monitor, the minister said: “If your miniskirt falls within the ambit of this definition then I am afraid you will be caught up by the law.”
The New Vision, on the other hand, quotes Minister Lokodo saying: If you are dressed in something that irritates the mind and excites other people especially of the opposite sex, you are dressed in the wrong attire and please hurry up and change.”
Again, none of these points the minister raises is plainly provided for under the Act. Unless the drafters of the law made it intentionally ambiguous, one can easily conclude that either the minister does not know the content of the Act or he is commenting basing on the definition of pornography as based on the draft law/Bill.
For instance, what is a miniskirt? How can you determine that your dressing has irritated or excited a man? Are the proponents of the Anti-Pornography Act saying that men are so emotionally loose that they cannot help getting excited or irritated by the way a woman dresses? Is this excitement or irritation a ‘privilege’ of men only or do women also experience the same? We might probably have to carry out research in Karamoja to find answers to some of these questions.
It is because of the above presentation of the Act, that other provisions of the Act have been overlooked.
The general prohibitions under the law
- Overall prohibition. According to the Anti-Pornography Act, “A person shall not produce, traffic in, publish, broadcast, procure, import, export, sell or abet any form of pornography.”
- Child pornography. The Act states that “a person who produces, participates in the production of, traffics in, publishes, broadcasts, procures, imports, exports or in any way abets pornography depicting images of children, commits an offence”.
- Internet Service Providers. The Act also states that an Internet Service provider who permits the uploading or downloading of any content that is pornographic in nature, commits an offence.
- 4. Leisure/Entertainment. Additionally, if the proprietor of a place of leisure or entertainment or of a business dealing in leisure or entertainment commits an offence under the Act, he/she is held liable.
- 5. Publishers & broadcasters. Under the Act, those who publish or broadcast pornographic content also commit an offence, and it is the same for internet-content developers and dealers in telephone related businesses.
As we wait for the Act to take effect, what remains is whether the implementers will offer clarity about its contents to the people. If they don’t, then we may just console ourselves in the fact that laws of this land are hardly implemented.