Stop Violence Against Women in Malawi – Jan. 20 HHI Protest Rally

Hundreds attended a "Stop Violence Against Women in Malawi!" protest and sit-in in Blantyre Friday, Jan. 20 in reaction to the stripping of women that took place Jan. 17 and 18 in the outdoor market areas of Mzuzu and in the capital city of Lilongwe.

Women dressed in white or T-shirts printed with the word "PEACE" on the front and the phrase “VENDOR: TODAY I BOUGHT FROM YOU, TOMORROW, YOU UNDRESS ME???" on the back.

Men and boys also attended the event where there were speeches from prominent church leaders, activists and politicians, dancing and singing, with the Bob Marey classic No Woman No Cry getting the loudest cheers.

Malawian poet Chigomezgo Gondwe Chokani performs at the Jan. 20 HHI “Stop Violence Against Women in Malawi!” protest rally.

“I would like to extend an invitation to all of you,” said Seodi White, executive director of Women in Law in South Africa-Malawi as she took the stage of the near-capacity HHI Multipurpose Hall on Jan. 20.  “This invitation is to a place called Malawi.

“This is a place where you find women who are respected.  This is a place where you find women who are not violated.  This is a place where vendors respect women – who do not strip women.”  Her voice grew louder with every word until it was overtaken by the applause of the hundreds of protestors gathered in the hall.

The men, women and children in the audience, dressed in white or in protest T-shirts emblazoned with the insignia “VENDOR, TODAY I BOUGHT FROM YOU, TOMORROW, YOU UNDRESS ME???” knew full well that they were already in Malawi’s commercial city-centre, Blantyre.  White’s ironic invitation was meant to inference the mass disillusionment that Malawians are experiencing after innocent women were stripped and stolen from for wearing trousers or skirts in the outdoor market areas of Mzuzu and the capital city of Lilongwe on Jan. 17 and 18.

Mobs of men and boys in the largely conservative southern African country publicly stripped the women who they claimed were dressed “indecently” – despite the fact that it’s been 18 years since the late dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s “indecency in dress” laws were repealed in Malawi.

At the Jan. 20 HHI protest assembly, Chancellor College lecturer Dr. Ngeyi Kanyongolo reminded the audience that the Indecency Act was repealed in 1994 and that under Section 20 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi women have the freedom to wear what they want.

But what is freedom without security?

Not much.  And that’s why even the women who left the protest rally with a spring in their step and the brazen women you see walking the streets of Blantyre wearing pants more than likely have a chitenje in their handbag.


About karissagall

Karissa Gall is a Canadian journalist.

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