A bill before Parliament in Uganda would prohibit women from wearing miniskirts in public. The government's ethics minister, Simon Lokodo, has taken the lead in defending it. "Anything above the knee is outlawed," he said. "If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her."
If the bill were to become law, Uganda would hardly be the first country to institute harsh restrictions on women's dress in public. Saudi Arabia, for instance, famously expects women to be shrouded head to toe in public. So does Iran. In each of these cases, proponents of the restrictions say that part of their goal is to prevent women from provoking men into sexual assaults. But isn't it obvious that if a country wants to prevent sexual assault, it should figure out how to stop the criminals rather than impose constraints on potential victims?
Many countries have institutionalized dress codes that reflect the mores of the local culture. The United States, for instance, regulates how much of the body can be revealed on broadcast television. (Just ask Janet Jackson about her wardrobe malfunction at that Super Bowl halftime show in 2004.) Visitors to federal prisons in this country are informed that miniskirts "may result in your being denied visitation."
But the Ugandan proposal goes much further, and Lokodo's insistence that men are "provoked and enticed" into rape and assault by women wearing miniskirts is offensive and hypocritical. If the government wants to tackle the important issue of sexual assault, it needs to confront the criminals. And leave thigh-baring skirts out of the discussion.