Interpretations of the Anti-Pornography Act: What are the stakes?

There has been a lot going on about the mini-skirt. As a friend said to me on Facebook the other day, “There is so much hatred towards women.” She believed that this is why it was very easy for Minister Simon Lokodo (and media, by extension) to rally the populace into what can only be described as madness and war on women.

So what is it about this bill- now Act of Parliament? I am not going to give you answers, I never have those. But I hope to leave you enough questions because sometimes, questions are all we need.

It is almost impossible to argue this legislation, without talking about Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo. It may be surprising to you that it is not a private member’s bill (as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was), but was introduced to Parliament as a Government Bill. It is not that pornography was not already regulated by law; it was. But in the unsigned copy, a memorandum signed by Minister Lokodo says that the then-current provision (for it is now repealed) “penalises trafficking in obscene publication, thus catering for obscene publications only; yet the issue of pornography transcends publications and includes communication, speech, entertainment, stage play, broadcast, music, dance, art, fashion, motion picture and audio recording.”

Transcends publication. Fashion.

The memorandum also argues,

This Bill seeks to create the offense of pornography which has become an insidious social problem. Pornography is defined in this Bill and it is prohibited because of the dangers it poses to individuals and families and communities. One of the dangers it poses is that it fuels sexual crimes against women and children including rape, child molestation and incest.

That sexist and ill-informed opinion removes individual responsibility from every rapist for their actions. Does this mean that if a person were convicted for rape or defilement, they could claim “Pornography made me do it”? Are we now admitting this in court?

But this is the Minister’s position. It is important to separate his views from the legislature because to fail to do that is to provide an interpretation that is heavily biased by his personal opinion.

So what is pornography?

According to the Bill,

 “pornography” means 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 preceding that depicts-

(a) a person engaged in explicit 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,

And according to the Act,

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

In the Act, the following has been lost from the definition:

  • Cultural practice
  • “Any indecent act or behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement”
  • “sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks or genitalia”

The others are condensed into categories like “publication”, “information technology”, “real or stimulated explicit sexual activities” because the definition in the original draft is repetitive.

The question now though is what does this Act mean by “exhibition” and “indecent show”. There is no offered explanation of what is indecent. “Representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement” could mean something different to my Science teacher and a whole other range of things to Minister Lokodo.

When tasked by the Prime Minister to explain why there was intention to regulate women’s dresscode, the minister was reported to have said there was no such legislation. Daily Monitor run the story with headline “Women free to wear miniskirts-Lokodo” on January 17th. But when the ministry called a press conference last Tuesday, he was reported to say, ““The police are already equipped with the parameters for determining those who offend the law; and these are already clear, the way in which one talks, dresses or walks which is deemed provocative or likely to cause sexual excitement.”

New Vision, which run the story under headline “Uganda bans miniskirts, pornography”, quoted him: “We do not like you to behave in a way that draws the attention of other people. Be decent and let your cloth show you as a decent person,” Lokodo said.

What followed media’s reporting of Lokodo’s interpretation was painful on so many levels. At best, “indecent show” and “exhibition” are vague. Is it a show as in a production? An exhibition with a stage and intended audience? All this could have been under discussion in the news stories but it wasn’t. Media said the miniskirt had been banned, so the people undressed women- believing they were protected by the law. They’ve tried to undo this with Editorial for some houses and others with discussions on talkshows. Because whether we like it or not, media mediation is the difference what is said and what is finally heard. They are the editors of our world; telling us what to pay attention to with leads and headlines.

But how can we undo this? And have a productive conversation about this legislature. An article in Daily Monitor that said it was demystifying the law left readers like me more confused than enlightened. A lecturer of Law was asked about the connection between the miniskirt and the Act and he was quoted: “A person wearing a miniskirt can be captured in the definition of pornography because the miniskirt is representing their sexual parts although it would be difficult to tell whether they are doing so primarily for sexual excitement.”

What sexual parts are represented by the miniskirt? “Sexual parts” is very subjective and it is easy to say this lecturer was extrapolating his own interpretation too. The journalist did not ask him about this.

There is always the gendered aspect to this law as when interpreted in this “sexual parts” frame, it targets only women. And this would be to superimpose a collective idea of what decency is on every Ugandan female and regulate them, all the while defining them as sexual objects that exist only to entice a man.

We will not republish here that horrendous picture that is making rounds on social media. Whether media is using it as a way to re-sensationalise the issue or to actually report is debatable as some have said the picture is old. But there have been instances of women being undressed in the country.

The incidents were not isolated to Kampala, as some were reported in other towns in the country.

That story from Uganda Radio Network reported that the church had placed men in charge of making sure that the women showed up in the dresscode that they required.

Ten people reported to have been undressed by mobs in Iganga [Source: Daily Monitor]

It is like an explosion of hatred. A war on women.

It was at 4p.m as I walked out of one of the arcades downtown. I saw a group of people shouting at the top of their voices. Out of curiosity, I went to see what they were looking at.

It was a lady wearing tight skinny jeans and the group of men who had surrounded her were asking her why she was showing them her buttocks and yet the “miniskirt law forbids it.”
The girl begged the men to forgive her and even pulled her top to cover up part of the skin that was showing but these men did not listen. Within a few minutes, three of them got hold of her jeans and ripped them to pieces leaving the poor girl naked. [Source: Daily Monitor]

There might be hope.

But for now, join concerned citizens who want to END MINISKIRT HARASSMENT today (Wednesday). More details on this Facebook page. They will meet at 9a.m at National Theatre (the closer to Parliament, the better)

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3 thoughts on “Interpretations of the Anti-Pornography Act: What are the stakes?

  1. Pingback: Jocoza » Uganda’s anti-pornography law targets media more than miniskirts

  2. Pingback: Dubious Laws and our Shameless Media | APENYO

  3. Pingback: Blog: Interpretations of the Anti-Pornography A...

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