The Ugandan parliament has passed a controversial sexual offences bill which further criminalises same-sex relationships and sex work.
The laws were passed by MPs this week, reiterating sections of legislation first enforced in the country by British colonial rule. They condemn same-sex couples who perform acts deemed against the “order of nature” to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The legislation consolidates previous rulings around child marriage and rape, and criminalises incest, sexual harassment, sex tourism and indecent communication.
“This bill consolidates all laws relating to sexual offences in Uganda. We are hoping that the bill is going to help us in the prevention of sexual violence, enhance punishment for sexual offenders and protection of victims during trials,” Monicah Amoding, the MP who proposed the bill, said. She defended the legal discrimination as supporting “societal values”.
“We are not yet ready for those [homosexual] rights. Maybe in future, as of now our society still views relationships, sex and marriage … as between a man and woman,” said Amoding.
“Those who are criticising us should wait for Uganda to grow up in that area. Our society hasn’t come of age to appreciate those rights that some parts of the world want us to do.”
But there was anger from activists. Frank Mugisha, director at Sexual Minorities Uganda said: “It is unfortunate that the parliament of Uganda is obsessed with legislating around people’s private lives. Such legislation is very hard to enforce. This will only increase the vulnerability of LGBT persons,” he said.
“This is yet another law that will be used by law enforcers to harass, blackmail and arrest LGBT persons. I also do not see the need, since same-sex relations are already criminalised in our penal code.”
The bill has been pending for more than a decade. In 2014, an attempt to make some homosexual acts punishable by death was declared “null and void” by a constitutional court.
Trisha Mugerwa, one of the feminist activists who had been working on drafting the bill with the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Forum, said: “Sadly, the bill gave and took away some. It’s one step forward, two steps backward.
“I am a feminist. We are happy and celebrate the efforts of everyone to ensure we have a gender responsive bill in the country. We have been struggling with it. We hoped it would provide a response to sexual offences which aren’t recognised in the penal code.
“It really gives us a basis through which we can now handle sexual offences in Uganda. We have now sexual harassments, cyber harassment, rape and aggravating factors being well defined.”
But she said the law, which now awaits the presidential assent, gave to one group of women and then oppressed another – lesbians and sex workers – and that she was disappointed MPs had removed clauses.
“It’s still dangerous. It’s a direct attack for people who are practising same-sex relationships and sexual minority groups,” said Mugerwa.
“It’s intrusive when it comes to women and persons practising sex work. We have been advocating for decriminalisation of the sex industry, and opting for regulation. So it’s a discussion that is still going and will take some time for us to get where we want to be.”
Campaigners expressed disappointment over MPs striking out progressive clauses, such as consent being required for a sexual act, which Joan Anena, project officer at Refugee Law Project, Makerere University, said was “key in elimination of sexual violence”.
“It provides a right to informed consent and to step out of any sexual activities that kill a person’s dignity and self-respect,” she said.
In a tweet, Sarah Kasande, a Kampala-based lawyer, said: “It is a discriminatory and regressive piece of legislation. It smuggles back provisions of the nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act and entrenches the criminalisation of sex work.
“The dunderheads @Parliament_Ug are too obtuse to realise the irony of deleting a critical provision on consent from sexual offences legislation,” she said. “By omitting this provision our good MPs sanctioned rape.”
In 2018, the then British prime minister, Theresa May, apologised for the UK’s role in criminalising same-sex relations in former colonies. Anti-gay laws passed under British rule are still used in 37 of the Commonwealth’s 53 member nations. The laws were “wrong then and wrong now” she said.
US gymnast Simone Biles received immense support from Americans this week after announcing she would not be competing in the Team USA final, nor the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final, due to personal mental health concerns. At the same time, the 24-year-old has received backlash from many individuals who viewed her pull-out as weak.
Aaron Reitz, deputy attorney general for Texas, took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to issue an apology to Biles, and recant a statement in which he panned the record-setting US gymnast as a “national embarrassment.”
“In a moment of frustration and disappointment, I opined on subjects for which I am not adequately versed. That was an error. I can’t imagine what Simone Biles has gone through,” Reitz claimed. “Simone Biles is a true patriot and one of the greatest gymnasts of our time.”
“I apologize to her, and wish her well,” the deputy AG concluded, emphasizing that his “personal social media comments” do not represent the views of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nor the Office of the Attorney General.
Reitz’s since-deleted tweet against Biles, who was born in Texas and still resides in the Lone Star State, quoted another post that applauded the 1996 Olympic performance of Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug. Strug, one of the US’ “Magnificent Seven,” severely injured her ankle during the first half of the vault competition, but refused to bow out of the event and ultimately led her team to win the US’ first gold medal in women’s gymnastics.
“Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles,” Reitz said in his quote tweet.
Aaron Reitz is the deputy attorney general for legal strategy under AG @KenPaxtonTX.
This tweet, in which he calls fellow Texan Simone Biles a “national embarrassment,” came outside of work hours but he often tweets hot takes between 9a-5p.
The deputy AG’s attempt at using Strug’s story to chastise Biles fell flat, as the two-time Olympian threw her support behind the 24-year-old on Tuesday.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that Biles is no stranger to performing with adversity. When the US Women’s Gymnastics team took home gold at the 2018 World Championships in Qatar, Biles dominated in nearly every competition, despite intense stomach pains from what was later confirmed to be a kidney stone.
Despite her pull-outs this year, Biles has continued to root for her fellow Team USA gymnasts. She also expressed in a Wednesday social media post that “the outpouring [of] love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”
With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.
The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.
There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.
These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.
Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.
The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”
This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.
Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.
Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.
“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”
Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.
There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.