Seeing thousands of women – and some men – march during the Kenya ‘My dress, my choice’ campaign filled me with pride.
It was a reaffirmation that African women everywhere are determined that no one will police their bodies and justify violence and perversion in the name of returning to some skewed idea about Africanness and how an African woman should behave.
What was most amazing to my Ugandan soul was the fact that, following the video of a woman being undressed by touts, there was no Lokodo to threaten her with arrest and warn other women who had any intentions of “irritating” men with their dress choice to get ready for whatever consequences.
Simon Lokodo, the minister for Ethics and Integrity, is on record saying that men raping women was “natural.” He led the campaign to pass the Anti-Pornography Act in Uganda and then took aantage of its ambiguous wording to literally incite men to attack “indecent” women, while telling the women to stop dressing “provocatively.”
Ugandan men responded swiftly to Lokodo’s call and, just after President Museveni assented to the law in March, several women were stripped or threatened on the streets of Kampala and upcountry. The Ugandan government, police, MPs and other leaders turned a blind eye to this violence. No one came out to demand justice for the women who had been harassed.
This is in stark contrast with our Kenyan neighbours, where Vice-President (no less) came out to condemn the attack and promise justice – as did the MPs and police. The Kenyan government and police supported the protesters to go and share their message on an end to violence against women in the taxi parks and other places where such attacks are most rife.
In Uganda, as I and a few people on social media got together to organize protests to counter the Ethics minister’s venom and get government to act against the harassment of women for wearing mini-skirts, security was placed on high alert and everything was done to stop the protests.
The police refused to grant permission for the protests. Providing protection to the protesters who were already targets of the men who thought they were entitled to dictate what a woman wears was out of the question.
In fact, as one of the organisers of the “End Miniskirt Harassment” protests, I went to the police to try and involve them in the campaign. I was physically assaulted and stopped from accessing the premises because the policemen and women at the gate thought what I was wearing was too short.
On the day of the protests, police trucks parked outside the National theatre, where we gathered, to intimidate and threaten us. Still, in spite of the threats to their lives and the betrayal by the leaders who should have been at the forefront of protecting them, over 200 women got together to protest against the Anti-Pornography Act and the stripping of women.
Like was the case with the Kenyan protest, thousands of women from all over the world posted on social media their messages of support and pictures of them defiantly wearing miniskirts.
While the men who undressed the woman in the Kenyan video were arrested and justice for this woman is being relentlessly pursued, no man in Uganda has ever been arrested for stripping a woman. The authorities have not showed any interest in investigating the complaints or following up on the pictures of sexual harassment that are still occasionally shared on social media.
Instead, when the stripping occurs (and it still does), the police take the woman into custody- leaving the men who stripped her to go free. Even as women rights activist are challenging the law in the Constitutional court, a female musician is currently in custody for making an “indecent” video that supposedly violated the anti-pornography law.
Recently, when Desire Luzinda’s nude pictures were leaked by her ex, Lokodo threatened to arrest her, and not the man who had leaked the pictures. The problem of violence against women may be as bad in Kenya as it is in Uganda.
The only difference is that in Uganda, the authorities have sanctioned and accepted this violence. While Kenyan women can run to their government and police, Ugandan women have their government and police running after them and policing their bodies.
Like a recent Amnesty International report on Uganda’s repressive laws points out, Ugandan men have been emboldened by the complacent system to openly violate women’s rights. Even at the Ugandan Parliament, the seat of the custodians of the people’s rights, women’s bodies are thoroughly surveyed by the guards.
The policemen at the entrance of Parliament are not embarrassed to measure hemlines, butt size and hip size to determine whether a woman is unsexy enough to enter.
This is the reality that Ugandan women now have to face, after witnessing the difference between the way the Kenyan government and the Ugandan government handled the stripping of women on the streets. In Uganda, it is every woman for herself. In Kenya, they demanded that their women leaders in particular, do something to end violence against women.
In Uganda, a report by law professor Sylvia Tamale found that even the women MPs are sexually harassed and they are powerless to do anything about it. Another report showed that women in the Uganda Police Force experience the most violence from their husbands.
With a Constitution that proclaims the protection of women’s rights as articulately as that of Kenya, Uganda’s 28-year-old regime has managed to maintain a faccedilade of women emancipation while effectively stifling all pro-women and pro-human rights voices.
Patience Akumu is a co-founder of End Miniskirt Harassment Coalition.
Source : The Observer