Lilongwe – Two weeks after engaging in running battles with police in Malawi’s capital city Lilongwe over trading spaces, street vendors Tuesday morning set out on a morality path as they stripped naked all women found wearing trousers and tight skirts. Women scampered around Lilongwe’s Old Town business centre in search of wrappers to cover their exposed bodies. Some vendors were heard saying that many women are dressing ‘too indecently, contrary to the country’s culture’ while others claimed that they were only enforcing president Bingu wa Mutharika’s plea for women to dress decently in public.
But presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Natba denied that the president has ever talked about the dressing of women. Meanwhile, Catherine Munthali, executive director of the National Women’s Lobby has warned that if the conduct of the vendors persist her organization is going to call for a ‘naked protest’. “If this goes on we are going to be forced to call for a protest march which may as well have women protest in the nude,” she said. However, Seodi White, executive director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) has condemned the behavior of the vendors saying it is ‘unMalawian’. “Why should men be offended by merely seeing a thigh of a woman,” she wondered. “A decent Malawian man would propose to a lady and not strip her naked because she has exposed her body parts.” Meanwhile, some people believe that frustration has boiled over in the young street traders over the country’s worsening social and economic situation that they are trying to provoke unrest at every opportunity in order to steal from shops owned by Chinese and Indian nationals whom they accuse of putting them out of business. Police have since arrested five people who were found robbing womening of their belongings including money, cellphones and other valuables.
During the 30-year dictatorial rule of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi had banned trousers, shorts and tights skirts for women. The dress code was revisited after the attainment of the country’s democratic governance in 1994. During their earlier scuffle, two weeks ago, it had to take the military to calm the situation despite that the vendors did not move away from the streets.
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