Uganda’s women’s rights movement hails it as a beacon of hope for gender equality and warns of battles ahead
COMMENT | PRIMAH KWAGALA | When the five-judge Constitutional Court panel struck down the retrograde anti-pornography law of 2014 last month, the celebrations from the women’s movement and members of society who are allies of women were loud. The relief was overwhelming as the unanimous judgment of Justices Frederick Egonda-Ntende, Elizabeth Musoke, Cheborion Barishaki, Muzamiru Kibeedi and Irene Mulyagonja stands out as a beacon of hope in a society threatening to revert women back to the patriarchal age of marriage. male oppression and unconditional submission of women.
Section 2 of the law, which loosely defined pornography, left women at the mercy of men to determine whether their clothing constituted pornography and thus made them guilty or not. These failing lenses have led to the violation of women’s rights to privacy and protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and expression. They were also a violation of the constitutional requirement that offenses be clearly defined to avoid arbitrarily charging people.
Many thanks to the judges for standing up for the rights of women and other members of society who face many vulnerabilities who have been placed even more at risk of oppressive enforcement of this law by police and others law enforcement agencies, and the general public in Uganda.
Among other things, the Court of Appeal judges concluded that the definition of the word pornography in section 2 meant “any representation by publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent spectacle, information technology or by any means , of a person engaging in real or simulated activities”. explicit sexual activity or any depiction of a person’s sexual parts for the purpose of primarily sexual arousal; » be null and void. They held that it contravened constitutional principles of legality in that the nature of the offense was vague and imprecise and could lead to inconsistent application of the law.
Other provisions of the law that have been found to be unconstitutional include; Sections 11, 13 and 15. We also believe that due to the centrality of these provisions in the implementation of this law, the whole law has also been inadvertently invalidated.
We remain cautious, however, because the cancellation of a law that should not have been adopted in the first place, while marking progress for the respect and protection of women’s rights, also signals the end of a battle and the preparation more difficult fights to come.
Although the law was struck down due to its unconstitutionality, we cannot minimize the conditions in our society that led to the birth and enactment of such a law in the first place.
The enactment of the Anti-Pornography Act served to reinforce the historic oppression of women at a time when the government has ratified a number of regional and global instruments that bind it to promote gender equality and fight against any historical and social oppression against women and girls. The Ugandan constitution is also explicit on equality rights. Thus, the court ruling reminds the government to remain committed and true to its obligations under Pillar 5 of the SDGs to prevent violence against women as a critical development issue.
We are not yet at the top of the hill; far from there. But we now have a real chance to fight for real progress in the quest for women’s rights; especially their bodily autonomy and gender justice.
In the seven years the law has been in place, it has only racked up losses and delivered on none of its promises. It is ironic that a law created to supposedly protect women and children has left in its wake only the harassed, bruised and battered bodies and minds of women while protecting the perpetrators of such forms of abuse of women. and children in some cases.
It is not damage that is easily erased by simply acting as if the law never existed. The document may not be on the table, but the damage this bill has done to women’s lives; and especially the girls, will be with us for years.
I salute the court’s decision because justice prevailed, albeit belated and imperfect justice. As the moment calls for celebration, the most urgent response is a careful reflection on the series of events and decisions that led to the law in the first place. Particular attention must also be paid to the various forces which have risen up in arms and are seeking to overturn the decision of the Constitutional Court concerning this law. Their motives must be questioned and their actions reversed because there is no doubt that such a law is of no use in a free and democratic society like Uganda.
We still live in the same society that punishes women in the name of protecting them. We are still subject to many laws, written and unwritten, that explicitly and implicitly control women’s bodies, treating us like second-class citizens and only tolerating our presence when we express our autonomy.
Look at the femicide surge experienced in Uganda with over 28 women killed in Entebbe in 2017 and how sexual and gender-based violence crimes continue to increase exponentially year after year in Uganda. To date, no conclusive investigation and conviction has taken place, and given the silence around this issue, it appears that it is no longer a priority for law enforcement and the state. There is no doubt that women in Uganda need a stronger legal and policy framework to protect them from the various vulnerabilities they face on a daily basis in the various spheres of their public and private lives.
Women have paid the price for the enforcement of a law designed to protect them. It is women who have been attacked and stripped by men in public spaces, making them afraid to leave their homes, go to work, parties and express their autonomy, precisely because of this law.
Notably, the makeup of the five-judge panel that struck down the oppressive law (3 men and 2 women) also illustrates the gender justice tension that remains to be won even as we celebrate the small battles won. We need more women with a gender-sensitive approach in decision-making spaces, not just as symbols and talking points, but as real leaders and decision-makers worthy of the dignity and respect due to all. human beings and social justice.
This article was written by Ms Joy Asasira, Grace Namataka, Elizabeth Kemigisha, Marie Lwanga and Primah Kwagala – all members of the women’s movement in Uganda.