A Grassroots Triumph Over Controversial ‘Mini Skirt Law’ in Uganda

A Grassroots Triumph Over Controversial ‘Mini Skirt Law’ in Uganda

On August the 13th, the Constitutional Court of Uganda annulled four sections of the controversial 2014 Anti -Pornography Act unconstitutional. The court decided the Act, which is popularly known as the ‘mini skirt law’, as a violation of fundamental human rights, including women’s rights. Under the legislation any activity could be criminalised that deemed ‘pornographic’ or ‘sexually exciting’, such as wearing short skirts. The adoption of the law in 2014 led to a spike in public harassment of women across Uganda, who to some wore ‘revealing’ clothing. Among those arrested is Ugandan pop star Jemimah Kansiime, who showed her underwear in a music video in 2014. She is currently on trial where she faces up to 10 years in jail, although the new ruling could lead to her release.

From Street Marches to a Victory in Court

Ever since its adoption, many people -especially women- and human rights organisations have protested the controversial law. After 7 years, the persistent pressure led to a victory in court. The court case was filed by seven petitioning individuals and organisations. Amongst them was our Ugandan partner Women’s Organisation Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) -an organisation striving to improve the health, society, and economic wellbeing of adult female sex workers in Uganda while advocating for human rights. WONETHA cheers on their triumph as “it nullifies sections of the Anti-Pornography Act, which violate women’s right to dignity and bodily autonomy. This was shown by various incidents in which women were publicly undressed after the Act was passed by parliament”.

WONETHA court case WONETHA court case

Protecting Sex Workers’ Health and Rights

WONETHA further highlights that the annulled sections of the law especially made sex workers vulnerable to arbitrary arrests. These arrests were then often accompanied by other rights abuses, such as physical and sexual violence and the denial of access to HIV prevention and treatment. By annulling parts of this Act, sex workers are less exposed to the denial of much-needed health services. WONETHA concludes that “the judgment is therefore in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) principle of ‘Leave no one behind,’ and is one step in the right direction, towards the elimination of structural barriers to achieving success in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Uganda”.

WONETHA court case WONETHA court case

Creating Awareness for Change

Through our projects PITCH and Bridging the Gaps, we supported WONETHA with their national and local advocacy to create awareness around laws and rights in Uganda. This enabled WONETHA to successfully petition against the controversial Anti-Pornography Act and support sex workers across the country to advocate for their health rights, such as HIV treatment and prevention when in custody. Among other things, WONETHA held human rights dialogues and sensitising key health stakeholders.

Do you want to know about the work of WONETHA and about PITCH and Bridging the Gaps? Find out more!


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