Policemen should not check women breasts

By Yawe Araphat in Kampala.

Women in Uganda have protested against their breasts being checked for bombs at entry points to public places. The protest comes after a directive from the police demanding that womens’ bras should be checked thoroughly. They argue that terrorists are now manufacturing suicide bombs similar to bras.

Uganda police counter terrorism expert, Lodovick Awita while addressing public places operators in Kampala said “Terrorits are devising new methods of attack to beat the tight security measures. They are now making suicide bomb vests similar to bras. We therefore appeal to security personnel to check women’s bras.”

But women in Uganda have not taken the information lightly. “That is tatamount to abusing our privacy. Why should they touch our breasts simply because they claim they are checking for bombs. Breasts are among the most private parts of women and should not be touched by anyone,” said women’s activist Salama Namuddu during a press interview in Kampala.

Namuddu believes that instead of giving security personnel a valid pretext to touch women’s breasts, the police should rather place metal detectors at all entry points to public places. According to her “In this modern world there are gadgets which can be used to detect bombs rather than physical checking of individuals. They can use metal and bomb detectors.”

A women’s rights advocate, Beatrice Akie, has also spoken against the directive. “If they insist on checking us with their hands we will demonstrate against it” says Beatrice.

When one woman’s breasts were desecrated by police officers, two women showed their displeasure. They stripped to the bras before policemen in protest.

In the space of just five days, two sets of women in two different locations in the country, for two different reasons, stripped in the full view of to whom it may concern, in protest. One group, of about 60 women in Amuru district, stripped as a move to deter officials of Madhvani group who sought to use their land.

And then, after witnessing a police officer reach out and grab, then pull at opposition politician Ingrid Turinawe’s breast on TV, two women paraded themselves at the central police-station, having stripped down to their bras.

Nakedness is not a simple matter, especially if it is public nakedness. It is a grave issue, attached with sacred traditions and a kaleidoscope of superstitions. In the world of proverbs and sayings, nakedness is that thing with which the very worst is compared. The thing is a curse.

Even God does not joke around about the subject. If in doubt, check the Bible. There is that story in Genesis, about Noah and his infamous son who saw his dad all lying drunk, wasted and nude but chose to share the joke with his brothers instead of helping his old man out. Ham and his entire offspring were cursed, a story that has in the past been wrongly interpreted to mean that the cursed sons were we, the black African race.

There has not been much uproar about the stripping in Amuru, (although it was of a much bigger crowd of women), as compared to the two-woman incident at the Central Police Station on Monday. That could partly be because the case in Amuru was not captured on video for the entire country to see, unlike the case in Kampala when the whole of the world’s media converged to behold the spectacle.

And that uproar has been directed at Barbara Allimadi and Happy Twinomugisha, the two protestors who laid themselves bare before the cameras, criticised of bringing shame upon womanhood and of committing a taboo.

Considering that this is Uganda, a relatively conservative country where anything that departs from the norm, say gay rights, is scorned and held in contempt, this form of protest is of important relevance in terms of protest means and what female nakedness means to us in general.

Dr Florence Asiimwe, a senior lecturer at Makerere University’s School of Sociology, says women undressing in Africa is a representation of a strongly felt bout of anger. “It is an expression of unparalleled anger and displeasure; it is the climax of anger regarding matters of the nation they are living in,” she says.

Dr Asiimwe adds that the act of women exposing their nakedness in public is perceived as a curse in African societies and that for the case that happened in Amuru District, rituals had to be done to undo any curses that could have come out of the act.

But whilst Namaddu argues that modern gadgets should be used, Beatrice Akie explains that although women should be thoroughly checked for security reasons, it should be done in a way that does not abuse their rights, like the use of scanners.

Uganda is under threats of attacks by Al Shabab who accuse it for taking its troops Somalia for peacekeeping missions.

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