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no woman, more cry

26 January 2012

Last week, in Malawi’s major cities, some women had been stripped of their clothing, allegedly by small-scale vendors (men). The reason? The women were wearing pants, mini-skirts, or leggings. I initially found the news shocking as I have often worn pants in Malawi, as have a number of my female Malawian research assistants, without so much as a peep from any man.

Women responded by holding a sit-in/rally in Blantyre on Friday. Vice President Joyce Banda was there as was potential UDF presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi, both dressed in white to express solidarity with the movement. Below are a few pictures from the Blantyre rally. The T-shirts in the photograph translate to: “Vendor: Today I buy from you, tomorrow you undress me?”

Demonstrating for Women's Rights in Blantyre, photo by Basileke Gift Mwalima

Vice President Joyce Banda, photo by Basileke Gift Mwamlima

Rally in Blantyre, photo by Basileke Gift Mwamlima

As to the source of these attacks on women, women cite the poor economic situation in Malawi and how it has particularly affected street vendors, the ruling party points the finger at a regime-change plot, and some men in the country blame the mini-skirts themselves. See especially the comments in the linked article. In this article about how a vendor representative was chased away from the Blantyre rally, I noticed one commenter posted the phrase “akazi ndi zidole,” which translates to “women are toys.”

I certainly didn’t think there was gender equality in Malawi before the undressing assaults on women, but as others have commented on the situation, it is eerie how the former dictator Kamuzu’s dress code for women seems to be lurking at least in the minds of some.

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This post was written with the assistance of Basileke Gift Mwamlima. I thank Gift for sharing her photos and insights with me. She is an excellent research assistant, by the way, in case anyone is looking.

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