“Shorts”-Changed: Women in Malawi Protest for Freedom of Dress

Hundreds of girls and women protested recently, demanding an end to the recent public stripping attacks. In a largely conservative African country, groups of men and boys have been stripping women of their pants and miniskirts.

From 1963 to 1994, Malawi dictator Hastings Banda banned women from wearing pants and short skirts in an attempt to create ‘indecency laws.’ While these laws died with Banda 18 years ago, many followers of the dictator still try to keep this particular law alive. Claiming that it is un-Malawian and akin to prostitution to dress in short skirts and pants, these leftover strains of Banda idealists have been attempting to force women not to wear such clothes.

About a week ago, these women came together in a demonstration, wearing T-shirts with slogans such as “Real men don’t harass women.” Some men were also present in the protest, in addition to a few prominent politicians.

President Bingu wa Mutharika made a formal statement on both television and radio, assuring women that they are free to dress how they want. He said that they would be protected from thugs, vendors and terrorists and that he would not allow anyone to undress women in the streets. The police was ordered to arrest anyone attacking women wearing pants or miniskirts.

Other nations, such as South Africa have also been dealing with similar issues. Last year, women and men in South Africa held a “SlutWalk” to protest the idea that a woman’s appearance can elicit attacks. The name of the demonstration was created due to a comment made by a police officer, saying that women could escape getting raped by not dressing like “sluts.”

The idea that dressing “provocatively” will necessarily get a woman raped is sadly not limited to conservative, back-water or third-world countries. Those of you who visit online forums will most likely run into this sort of comment pretty frequently. The notion that a woman is the clothes that she wears and therefore deserves to be treated and debased is just another form of sexism. Do men get stripped on the streets for wearing “provocative” clothing? Do men get told that if they dress in a certain way, then they are asking to get raped? No. Of course not – that would be silly, right? Three cheers for the Malawi and South African women who didn’t take the abuse lying down.

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