Ugandan sexual offenses law is a bitter lesson for the women’s movement

In the end, the compromise came to nothing. When the law was passed on Monday, male MPs fought successfully to bring down the withdrawal of consent clause, while retaining anti-gay, anti-sex worker and victim-blaming provisions.

Indeed, the new law strengthens the ban on homosexual relations. The existing ban did not explicitly prohibit homosexuality; it depended on the interpretation of homosexual relations as acts “contrary to the order of nature”. the the new definition is specific: it is “the prohibition of a sexual act between people of the same sex”.

Divided we fall

Women parliamentarians who championed the new bill may have hoped that they could empower “good” women by distinguishing them from LGBTQI people and “bad girls” who take sexy photos of themselves. But they were going to have a surprise – they ran into the same opposition these other groups face.

The withdrawal of consent clause, for example, was attacked by MP David Bahati, author of Uganda’s infamous anti-homosexuality law, which became law in 2014, but was later canceled by the country’s Constitutional Court for technical reasons. Bahati argued that the proposed clause was a threat to “African marriage”.

Women’s rights activists who supported the bill chose to throw sex workers and sexual minorities under the bus, so to speak, in an attempt to negotiate with a patriarchal parliament. But under patriarchal politics, only men are safe.

Parliament rejected the key element of consent, the most fundamental expression of women’s bodily autonomy. If a bill on “sexual offenses” fails to guarantee the meaning of consent, what good is it?

Cis or trans, straight or queer, nice girl or sex worker, passive victim or whatever, none of us will ever be “suitable” enough to be “one of the boys”. Intersectionality requires that we understand the oppression experienced by different groups and then unite against the system that oppresses us. We cannot trade some of us to secure the others.

In addition, sex workers and LGBTQI people participate in civil society, including electoral politics – and, in particular, campaigns for women candidates. So it is only fair that the leaders they elect stop speaking only for “acceptable” types of people. The policy of “good women” is not the solution. In fact, that’s the problem – it’s why we’ve been stuck in the same wrong place for decades.

How to expand resistance

The Ugandan women’s movement has made tremendous progress for all of us. He secured constitutional quotas and other affirmative action for diversity in electoral politics, as well as greater inclusion in education and other areas of society. Now he must learn from his less praised peers.

Activists from queer communities and sex workers challenge sexual moralization. They push us all to accept that sexuality is diverse and so are sexual needs and the way they are met, even in a place like Uganda.

Despite a truly hostile environment over the past two decades, LGBT rights activists have had some hard-won successes, including court rulings in favor of their right to a fair trial and right to privacy. We would all do better if we imitate them.

UN Women and other donors should move away from the politics of “appropriate women” to embrace intersectional feminism. the latest statistics of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) show that barely 1% of all gender-focused aid has gone to feminist movements. Resources are skewed in favor of the type of ‘gender sensitive’ ticking work that results in homophobic, anti-sex worker, and victim-blaming outcomes – just like the law Ugandan women parliamentarians congratulate themselves on passing.