Banda, the country’s first woman vice president, said she wanted to “show solidarity with her fellow women at the event” organised by some leading women rights activists. Wearing overflowing white robes, she joined the audience which sang along to reggae legend Bob Marley’s hit single “No woman No Cry” as it blared out from the public address system. “Some of us have spent our entire life fighting for the freedom of women, it’s shocking some men want to take us back to bondage,” she said.
Agreeing with the sentiment was Dr. Ngey Kanyongolo, a law lecturer at Chancellor College, the main constituent of the University of Malawi. “It’s shocking that in 2012 we should be here discussing these issues while we did away with Indecency In Dress Laws some 18 years ago,” Kanyongolo said.
During the 30-year dictatorship under founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda women were banned from dressing in trousers and miniskirts while men were barred from wearing bell-bottomed trousers and sporting long hair (dreadlocks). Tourists or expatriate workers breaking this dress code were turned back at airports or border posts.
“We fought for a repeal of these laws,” said Kanyongolo. “Women dressed in trousers or miniskirts is a display of the freedom of expression and freedom to dress what they like. “Seodi White, one of the key speakers and organisers, said:”Malawian women want to take back their dignity. There should be no difference between men and women.”
Some of the street vendors who were undressing women claimed it was un-Malawian to dress in mini-skirts and trousers. Some said it was a sign of loose morals or prostitution.
“Mini-skirts do not denote prostitution,” she said. “You can be a prostitute in whatever dress.” But Dr. Jesse Kabwila-Kapasula, president of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union who was also a key speaker at the protest vigil dispelled such thinking.
The majority of the women wore T-shirts with the word “Peace” printed in front. At the back, written in the main vernacular language of Chichewa, were these words “Venda, Ndikugule, Undibvulenso ???” loosely translated as “Vendor, I buy from you and you strip me naked???”
Other women carried placards which read:”Real men don’t sell plastic bags, they work in offices and factories,” apparently referring to thousands of vendors who ply the streets of most cities and towns selling plastics and other items.The women urged fellow women to stop buying things from vendors.
Pres Bingu wa Mutharika Thursday ordered police to arrest “anybody seen harassing women”, saying women were free to wear what they desire.