Sunday March 2 2014

Yes, anti-pornography law is about miniskirt and so much else

By Bernard Tabaire

Porn gangs had sprung up and swung into action within days of porn minister Simon Lokodo announcing that President Museveni had signed the Anti-Pornography Bill into law. Some men in various Ugandan towns thought nothing of stripping women wearing what they, the mob, considered mini-dress and anything long but tight enough to accentuate curves.

That is what lack of employment mixed with decadent morality does when presented with stupid laws.
Suddenly, there was panic in high places. Women MPs were up in arms. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced that the Cabinet was recalling the law for further study – whatever that means.

Which suggests that we are having laws that go through the entire law-writing and legislative process without anyone thinking enough about the implications of every single word and punctuation mark let alone the thing as a whole.
The very low performance bar this government set for itself a couple of decades ago is no joke. Apparently clear thinking is no longer an element that shapes the business of government.

The rest of society is not much different, proving the point one more time that societies get (crappy) leaders they deserve. Witness how some people are going on about the word miniskirt not being anywhere in the law. That is their textually challenged way of saying that no one should therefore undress any woman in a miniskirt. Of course, no one should undress anyone in any form of dress against the wearer’s will.

The noun miniskirt is not in the law, yes, but that is irrelevant given this definition of pornography: “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 the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement”.

That is a definition that ropes in anything and everything that the law’s nine-member porn squad decides is porn. As for the miniskirt particularly, several words and phrases from the definition are troubling: any representation; exhibition; indecent show; by whatever means; sexual parts; sexual excitement. With these malleable words and phrases, who needs the word miniskirt or mini anything in the law for it to cause tears? In any case, why are women in tight jeans trousers and leggings falling victim?

Before the anti-porn law was the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, now Act, with its origins riding back to the First Lady-led anti-Aids campaign some dozen-or-so years ago. At the time Madame First Lady and some pastors were preaching faithfulness for married couples and abstinence from sex until one got married for the singles. Condoms were discouraged as evil, immoral.

Homosexuality was also immoral. Aids had been associated with homosexuality. So to fight Aids “holistically” and improve Ugandans’ morality, homosexuality too had to be fought. All this got more traction when president George W. Bush’s anti-Aids dollars started rolling in through Pepfar.

This is the situation that the much-talked-about Scott Lively and other shady evangelical characters like him from the United States exploited. The rest is terrible history.

The anti-porn and anti-homosexuality laws are the same side of the same coin. They seek to control what Ugandans wear, and with whom and how they have sex. (No oral-wormy sex, thank you very much.)

These laws amount to an unprecedented invasion of Ugandans’ privacy by their own government. These are evil pieces of legislation pushed by people arrogant enough to think of themselves as the moral guardians of Ugandan society, a society they perceive to be monolithic. It is not.

Where my mother comes from, fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law are not allowed within several metres of each other. Where my father comes from, the two hug. There. That is your “African culture” – that mother of catch-all’s and cop-outs that must be defended unthinkingly to levels that are absurd if they were not deadly.

Once you start policing morals, it becomes hard to know where to slow down, or stop. What is moral and what is not is neither here nor there. There is therefore no need to impose one version of morality on an entire society through draconian legislation.

Which is to say that Ugandan women MPs cannot support the anti-homosexuality law with its potentially deadly consequences while at the same time moaning about the anti-porn law with its actual consequences.

This applies to all those women who support the anti-homosexuality law. Like I said, I am for no forcible stripping of anyone and I am for no laws that police bodies and morals. If Ugandan women want to have it both ways, to operate without principle, it is up to them.

Mr Tabaire is a media consultant with the African Centre for Media Excellence.