Malawi VP at women’s protest over trouser stripping

Malawi’s Vice President Joyce Banda joined hundreds of women and other men when they protested in Blantyre about street attacks on women for wearing pants, leggings and miniskirts, instead of dresses..

Banda, who earlier blamed the women attacks on the country’s current economic woes, where there are severe shortages of fuel and foreign currency at present, said she could not believe that women are attacked for their dressing.

The country’s second-in command said there is so “much suffering that people have decided to vent their frustrations on each other.”

“We have to say no to abuse against women. We have to fight for women’s rights,” said Vice President Banda who joined the audience in dancing to Bob Marley’s tune, “No woman no cry”, blaring from speakers.

Apart from the Vice President, there was Minister of Gender Reeen Kachere,  UDF presidential hopeful Atupele Muluzi, several MPs incluchurch leaders, university lecturers notably the outspoken Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula  and other activists.

Notable men attending were lawyer Wapona Kitta, activists Ben Chiza Mkandawire and Billy Mayaya.

Protesters wore pants, miniskirts and leggings in a show of solidarity as they gathered to condemn the attacks.

Others wore white T-shirts that said: “Today we buy your merchandize, tomorrow you strip us naked!” Written in the local Chichewa language (Lelo nkugule, mawa ukanzivule) in an apparentreference to the vendors carrying out the attacks.

One sign was held up during the gathering with the words: “Real men don’t bother women” .

One of the organisers,  Seodi White, a lawyer, said the women were being targeted by disaffected youth unhappy with the economic situation.

“Is this really about culture or something else in terms of economic hardship people are looking for an outlet to vent on?,” she told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

Faustace Chirwa, executive director of Malawi-based National Women’s Lobby Group said; “Like a lot of Africa, there is a culture of instilling fear in women because people know they are voiceless even though they are guaranteed equality on paper.

“A lot of men in Africa believe they can dictate what women can do,” she said.

Chirwa demanded “tougher laws” to protect women from abuse.

A group of women stage in a sit-in at Commercial City in the city of Blantyre on Friday (AFP, Govati Nyirenda)

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