“We fought for a repeal of these laws. Women dressed in trousers or miniskirts are a display of the freedom of expression.”- Ngeyi Kanyongolo, law professor.
Fashion as a genuine statement
Formerly known as Nyasaland, the Republic of Malawi did away with criminal “fashion offenses” in 1994, though that hasn’t stopped the random assaults against innocent victims in recent days.
On Friday, January 12, 2012, Associated Press contributor Raphael Tenthani published a piece, “Women in Malawi protest attacks over skirts, pants,” that describes the current goings on:
“BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — It’s been 18 years since the late dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s ‘indecency in dress’ laws were repealed in Malawi, but mobs of men and boys in the largely conservative southern African country have recently been publicly stripping women of their miniskirts and pants.”
The legacy from President Banda’s repressive regime continues in the form of strict moral codes that have no room for certain articles of women’s clothing, as well as long hair on men. Phrases like “un-Malawian,” “loose morals” and the word “prostitution” has been used to justify the latest actions against certain types of women’s apparel.
Rest assured the incensed women in Malawi have responded to the harassment. Tenthani’s article explains:
“Friday, hundreds of outraged girls and women, among them prominent politicians, protested the attacks while wearing pants or miniskirts and T-shirts emblazoned with such slogans as: ‘Real men don’t harass women.’ A recording of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ got a loud cheer when it was played during the protest. Men also took part.”
A catwalk maybe but a “SlutWalk”?
On January 24, 2011, Toronto (Canada) Police Officer Michael Sanguinetti set off a firestorm of complaints when he said to an audience, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
By April, protest movements coalesced into a powerful but controversial reply called, “SlutWalk,” where protesters, some dressed provocatively, marched in the streets of Toronto opposed to the excuse of citing clothing as a reason for rape. Other cities joined the movement and marches were held. What does this have to do with Malawi?
Women have been assailed for their clothing in other countries, as well, and “SlutWalk” has responded. According to Tenthani, “Other African nations, including South Africa, have seen similar attacks and harassment of women. Last year, women and men held ‘SlutWalks’ in South Africa, joining an international campaign against the notion that a woman’s appearance can excuse attacks.”
In order to curb the rising incidence of occurrences, Malawian President, Bingu wa Mutharika, has addressed the nation, directed police to arrest all offenders and vowed to protect the right of women to dress any way they choose, including in miniskirts and pants.
If there’s not much flexibility on the part of men in Malawi when it comes to fashion, chances are equal civil rights has an uphill battle.