Last week a number of women were beaten and stripped in the streets of Blantyre and Lilongwe because they were not wearing “traditional dress.” Women are protesting – as they should. And let’s be honest: everyone should be protesting this type of vicious attack on a person’s dignity.
To the men who perpetrated this act of violence, shame on you. Malawi is a beautiful country, a place I called home for two years and remains close to my heart. Shame on you for making this yet another story added to the list of abuses women face around the world simply because of who they are. I speak from having lived in Malawi for two years at a time when the government was in transition from the longstanding “His Excellency the Life President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda.” I was living in Zomba in 1994 when the law preventing women from wearing trousers was finally repealed. I clearly remember walking to town one day to buy my groceries and – gasp – I actually saw a woman wearing black trousers standing next to some men at a bottle store (bar). I hadn’t seen a woman wearing trousers in several months – I admit I couldn’t stop staring. But that was eighteen years ago.
I should also point out that in my first week living in Malawi, as I was walking down the main road from Zomba to Blantyre, I came across a boisterous group of men and women celebrating after a wedding. As per tradition, the men were wearing women’s skirts. I don’t remember any women beating up on the men because of the way they were dressed.
Stop it, guys. Take your anger elsewhere. It’s bad enough my native country is doing a lame job at respecting human rights; don’t let it happen in Malawi too. Take a cue from the preamble of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: “Recalling that discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity…” Just stop it. Let them be.