Imagine sitting in your living room watching TV and noticing someone outside looking in your window. How would you feel? What if that stranger is looking in the bedroom window at you and your lover?
What if that stranger is a police officer, a judge, a pastor? What if they are getting ready to pounce and arrest you for what you are doing in the privacy of your own home?
This is the reality that otherwise innocent, law-abiding Zambians could face if government allows police to shut down shops selling sex toys in Lusaka and target people sending private pictures of themselves.
While you may doubt police will actually show up at your house and seize your sex toys or smartphone, the fact that they have the power to do so is a serious problem for basic personal freedoms and rights in Zambia.
Let’s consider the threats that sex toys pose to public safety and health. Unless they are being used as weapons in a domestic dispute, dildos, vibrators, and other sex toys pose absolutely zero risk to public safety.
As for public health, improper use and cleaning of sex toys can indeed spread diseases. As Ndola gynaecologist Dr Misheck Hamazwanga rightly points out, sex toys can contain dangerous chemicals and may harbour harmful bacteria, especially if cheaply produced and poorly maintained. This point can and should be applied to many other consumer products and packaging, much of which contain toxic chemicals.
Consumers should be informed on how to properly use and sanitize their toys. This would ordinarily be the job of a sales clerk, but when such products are criminalized, you have no control over the right information reaching the customer.
So the solution to the insignificant public health threat posed by sex toys is to have accurate information available in a legal and professional retail setting. The solution is definitely not to allow police to interfere in people’s private sex lives.
The same can also be said for adult couples or individuals sending nude pictures via text or apps like WhatsApp. The public health and security threat posed by naughty pictures is simply none. We may not approve of people doing so, but as long as they are consenting adults, there is no good reason why government, ZICTA, or police should get involved, other than authoritarian voyeurism.
In this globalized world, anyone with a smartphone and Internet access is only a few clicks away from an ocean of pornography. Zambia’s obscenity laws were crafted before the Internet, and clearly we have not kept up to date.
What counts as “obscene” in today’s world? Are sexy bras and lingerie obscene? What’s the difference between sexy undies and sex toys? Why should sex boosters be allowed everywhere but not sex toys? Why is a photograph taken and shared by consenting adults considered obscene? Should we ban TV shows like Game of Thrones, or shut down DSTV for showing such racy entertainment?
More importantly, how are we to decide who decides what is “obscene”?
These are questions that should be asked and answered by our legislators and courts of law before we allow police to threaten and raid anyone who may sell such adult items.
Are sex toys more of a threat to public health and safety than the illegal alcohol overflowing the streets of Lusaka? Rising political tensions and police brutality concern me far more than a few lucky ladies playing with their Rabbits.
To paraphrase late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, government has no place sticking its nose in our bedrooms. The police should have even less business dictating what consenting adults can and cannot do in the privacy of their own homes.
The fact is we deserve more rights and personal freedoms in Zambia, not less.
There is simply no reasonable justification for police or government to use outdated and almost unenforceable obscenity laws to intimidating citizens and small businesses.
There will always be those sheep who bleat that sex toys, revealing lingerie, and other adult accoutrements are “immoral” and “indecent”, but why should their personal opinion or religious belief dictate what others are allowed and not allowed?
Zambia is a constitutional democracy, not a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. Whether we like it or not, the laws of Zambia are drafted under secular guidelines, not religious ones – and for bloody good reason.
Certain pastors have made noises about sex toys being against “Bible principles”, but how many of these Godmen check the genitals of their male congregants before they enter church (Deuteronomy 23:1)?
Would they also check birth certificates to make sure parishioners are not bastards, banned from entering a church even to the “tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:2)? How many church leaders would call for a newly-wedded bride to be stoned on her father’s doorstep if she was found not to be a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:20)?
How many “men of God” would insist that worshippers stay home and pray quietly in private as instructed by Jesus (Matthew 6:5) or force their female congregants to cover their hair (1 Corinthians 11:6) and keep their mouths shut (1 Corinthians 14:34)? How many Zambian divorcees would agree that getting married again is adultery (Luke 16:18)?
Frankly, if we followed “Bible principles” to their natural conclusions, Zambian law would have to make allowances for slavery (Exodus 21:2-11 and 20-21, Exodus 22:2-3, Leviticus 25:44-46, 1 Peter 2:18, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Ephesians 6:5), as well as incest (Genesis 19:30-38 and 20:12, 1 Corinthians 7:36-38), rape (Deuteronomy 22: 28-29), genocide (Numbers 31:7-18, Deuteronomy 20:10-14), and even cannibalism (2 Kings 6:28-29, Ezekiel 5:7-11, Deuteronomy 28:52-57).
As long as pastors can selectively pick the verses they appreciate while ignoring the inconvenient ones, no church leaders should be allowed to impose his or her “values” on public policy.
Likewise, it is not the role of government to dictate and administer “morality” upon the public.
In Zambia, as in any other avowed democracy, our laws and public policy must uphold and encourage the personal rights and freedoms of the citizenry.
Failure to do so may lead to willful religious hypocrisy, not to mention the creeping tyranny of fanaticism.