Would Ugandan men miss the miniskirt?
Albert, an accountant with a top city bank, says he is tired of the insecurity he feels whenever he is at work.
His crisis is the fact that male co-workers ogle at his fiancée’s as she strolls around in a miniskirt. The mini, along with other ‘revealing’ clothes, is the unofficial uniform for all female employees at the bank, Albert says. And this irks him.
“I must admit I feel jealous whenever I catch other guys looking at her bum. But there is nothing to do because she would lose her job if I stopped her from wearing minis at work,” Albert laments, crediting his fiancée’s attractive looks as a perfect marketing strategy for the company.
But he would rather be the only one to behold her awesome figure, the reason he looks forward to Sundays when they stay indoors as she treats him to romantic teases. Benson, a high school teacher, on the other hand, says he is disgusted by miniskirts. He has imposed an ultimate ban on the skimpy wear in his classroom and at home.
“When I see a woman in a miniskirt, I see a prostitute,” he surmises, referring to the mini as indecency of the highest order. “Society is breeding a rotten generation of youth who take nudity as cool.”
But possibly within the next few months, Albert and Benson, along with millions of other Ugandan men, might get peace in form of passing of the controversial Anti-Pornography Bill that is currently under discussion in Parliament. The bill, tabled last week by Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo, is the product of the clamour that there has been an increase in pornographic materials in Ugandan media and nude dancing in the entertainment world.
Morality activists argue that there is need to establish a legal framework to regulate such vices. Lokodo, a trained Catholic priest, is particularly critical against the miniskirt, which he says is to blame for, among other things, the increased sexual crimes against women. If the bill is passed into law, anyone found guilty of abetting pornography will face a fine of Shs 10m or a jail stint of not more than 10 years or both.
“Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, is outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her,” Lokodo told MPs on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee.
But while the international community has been quick to label the proposed bill an outright infringement on women’s rights, many Ugandan men seem to think otherwise. The men expressed their dislike for the brief skirt, which they say tempts them into sin and corrupts African values. To many, this will come across as other ironical thing, given that it is the same men who are the lead consumers of pornographic material.
“There is totally nothing to miss about the miniskirt- it is a disgusting and disturbing spectacle anyway,” said Pastor Vincent Mbalangu of Christian Victory Church in the city suburb of Ndeeba.
Mbalangu, who neither condoned nor condemned the bill, says he too is tempted whenever he sees a woman in a miniskirt.
“When God made Adam and Eve to realize their nakedness, it was an indication that he no longer wanted our private parts exposed. Why do women want to defy that order?” Mbalangu asks, adding that his congregation would easily throw out any worshipper who turned up in a mini.
Mbalangu says because most women dress indecently to attract attention, the government should instead work towards extending women sensitization programmes in schools and villages. Although religion is known to hold a conservative stance on what clerics see as indecency, some Ugandan churches appear to be becoming more permissive towards provocative dressing, according to Pastor Solomon Male of Arising for Christ church.
“Look at all these church choirs dressed in sexy uniforms. Some pastors have even gone to an extent of positioning provocatively-dressed women to lure male worshippers into giving bigger offertories,” Male said, adding the ban on the mini was long overdue.
It is said the miniskirt was initially won by slaves in the ancient days of the Roman empire, before it showed up in movies like Forbidden Planet in the 1950s. In Uganda, the miniskirt is believed to have been brought by colonialists in the pre-‘60s era. At first, it was a preserve for people like governors’ wives and other white expatriates.
Gradually, the naughty dress code found its way on Kampala streets, thanks to the budding prostitution industry and growth of the entertainment industry- mainly Congolese bands that usually brought with them an army of half-naked queen dancers. Like Lokodo, President Idi Amin was so alarmed by the trend of wearing miniskirts that seemed to suggest an acute shortage of cloth.
Amin summarily banned miniskirts and ordered army and police to instantly swing into action. Women who were found to be thus inappropriately dressed were caned or otherwise humiliated before ending up in police cells. By the time Amin was deposed in 1979, Ugandan women characteristically wore skirts of maximum length – hence the term “maxi”.
“Amin’s crude methods helped restore morality among Ugandans but unfortunately the following regimes paid little attention to sustain the trend,” says Male, with a tinge of nostalgia, adding that indecency has reached worrying proportions and must be fought.
Today, as Lokodo explains, the entertainment industry is a leading consumer of the minkiskirt, as costumes get shorter and shorter. A new crop of female entertainers, led by the likes of Iryn Namubiru, and Desire Luzida, partly owe their popularity to their sexy personas, enhanced by explicit dress codes. But one such top artiste who has earned a reputation as one who leaves nothing for imagination, self-styled dancehall ragamuffin gyal Margla, cannot understand the fuss about dressing in ‘micro-miniskirts’ and other revealing attires.
“This is a part of showbiz. This is how our audiences love it,” a laughing Margla told us, ridiculing the bill and branding Minister Lokodo hypocritical.
According to this dancehall star, who picks her wacky dress sense from Jamaican and American music stars, indecency is going out stark naked or dancing kimansulo. She hence maintains she is not indecent, since she does not expose her private parts to fans.
Another key irony is that some female activists and lawyers, who are otherwise known to defend women issues no matter the controversy, have openly come out to support the bill. A case in example is Martha Agaba, a legal officer with Fida. She says Ugandan women have overstepped their freedom of expression.
“My only disagreement with the minister is that wearing a miniskirt does not necessary call for rape or defilement,” says the young lawyer, who does not wear minis.
This is the kind of voice that accountant Albert would like to hear, as he fights a losing battle to keep his prized girl from the potentially adoring eyes of the public. And if lawyer Martha Agaba reflects a significant segment of Ugandan society, Minister Lokodo could get his way and take Ugandan women back to the Amin era – with the backing of men!