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Uganda: Treatment of Women

Volume 752: debated on Thursday 6 March 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make representations to the government of Uganda about reports that women are being attacked following the passing of legislation in the Ugandan Parliament that bans women from wearing indecent outfits.

My Lords, we have been closely following the Anti-Pornography Act, which received assent on 6 February 2014. The clause interpreted as restricting female dress was amended during parliamentary debate. We are working with local and international partners to understand fully the Act’s implementation. The Ugandan police have issued a warning against attacks and the Ugandan Prime Minister announced a Cabinet review of the Act.

I thank my noble friend for her reply, but is she aware that public statements by Ugandan Ministers have suggested that the Government really support the sort of behaviour that has resulted from this ban? Is she aware that evidence in this country about men who coerce their wives and partners about what they wear shows that that often leads further to violence against those women? I welcome the British High Commission’s public statement opposing the anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda. Will the British High Commission do something similar in relation to this particular legislation?

Again, for the sake of noble Lords who do not know what we are talking about, this is in relation to a particular piece of legislation that was designed to be anti-pornography, but the definition of pornography was drafted so widely that it effectively covered what women could and could not be perceived to wear in public, including a ban on miniskirts. In relation to the particular question, I assure my noble friend that we have made incredibly strong submissions, both publicly and privately, about the Anti-Pornography Act and the impact that it has had on women because of the unfortunate way that society has responded to what is perceived to be the law, as well as in relation to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was passed in February of this year.

My Lords, following something that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about this country, does the Minister agree that while it is important that we make ourselves clear to Uganda about how we view its legislation, we should also be aware that in this country there is still a disposition to regard women’s behaviour and how they dress as a form of contributory negligence when they are subjected to violence? Will she reassure the House that the Government are doing everything they can to root that out, particularly in the police and media? Will she also look at how the education of boys can be further strengthened to ensure that boys do not grow up with those sorts of attitudes?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. She clearly shows that despite the fact we have legislation in countries that protects women, ultimately social attitudes must follow to ensure that the legislation can be properly implemented and the values that we espouse are properly seen in society. All of us have a responsibility. Only last week, when I was out campaigning with a particular female Member of Parliament, she was referred to by somebody on Twitter as a “Harpy”. I googled that and realised it was an offensive word, so I quite rightly blocked them.

My Lords, everyone is clearly aware that this is yet another piece of gender-based regressive legislation in Uganda, which clearly contravenes the accepted human rights norms on an international basis let alone what we may think. With many UK-based firms working and investing in Uganda, what discussions are the Government having about the implications for United Kingdom citizens located there and, perhaps just as importantly, for UK investment policy in Uganda?

First of all, our travel advice on LGBT issues has been clear to inform people that there could be challenges in relation to how they could be treated when they are in Uganda. Of course, we have a strong relationship with Uganda. It is on that basis that we can have these incredibly frank conversations. I think that all noble Lords would accept that every country is on a journey in relation to its issues around LGBT rights. We have had our own such journeys in this country. What concerns me is the trajectory of some of these countries. Unfortunately, they seem to be heading in the wrong direction.

My Lords, are the Government contemplating any practical action as a result of the truly appalling anti-homosexual legislation? How about travel bans?

My noble friend makes an important point. One of the potential solutions has been to look at the issue of our aid programme. It is important to note that we do not give budget support to the Ugandan Government: 99% of our aid goes directly to NGOs and civil society organisations. But we must always remain vigilant and look at how we can continue to persuade the Ugandan Government and others to protect LGBT rights.

My Lords, I am not clear about the Minister’s answer to the penultimate question about the agenda of our dialogue with the Ugandan Government on investment and many other questions. What is the Government’s judgment of how far this matter can be taken forward, or is it the sort of area which it is thought better to exclude for diplomatic reasons?

It is not thought of as an area that we would exclude diplomatically. The noble Lord must be aware that the Foreign Secretary has made incredibly frank and open statements about our concerns around LGBT rights in Uganda and I have always taken the view, as the Minister with responsibility for human rights at the FCO, that if we are going to make human rights work, we have to do this properly. That is the vein in which we are working.

My Lords, given that Uganda is treated as a safe country under Section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, when was the country of origin information service report on Uganda last revised?

The noble Lord will be aware that there is always huge controversy about information and about the accuracy of the country of concern reports which are used as the basis for asylum applications, for example. I know that in relation to these particular issues and LGBT rights, the country of concern information has been and is being updated.

I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness and, indeed, the Secretary of State on the very firm stand they have taken on LGBT rights and other human rights, particularly in Uganda. When the law was passed to make homosexuality illegal, I was struck that the Anglican Church of Uganda supported it. I know that our own church and the former archbishop, Desmond Tutu, have denounced that. I wonder what the Government are doing in terms of working with the church to mitigate what will be, I think, dreadful repression.

Engagement with faith communities is always seen as an avenue for us in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am not aware of what specific work we are doing in relation to Uganda, but I can certainly write to the noble Baroness on that. This particular piece of legislation was really the lobbying work of one single Member of Parliament, Simon Lokodo—I think it is important to name him—who is referred to as the Minister for Ethics and Integrity. That just shows, as we approach International Women’s Day, how much damage one man can do.