‘Women need protection’

On Tuesday last week some people in Lilongwe stripped women for wearing trousers and miniskirts. Later, the same happened in the country’s other cities of Mzuzu and Blantyre. This prompted some women activists to mobilise a peaceful protest at HHI Multipurpose Hall in Blantyre to speak against any form of violence against women. MWERETI KANJO caught up with one of the speakers at the event, Chancellor College lecturer Dr Ngeyi Kanyongolo on issues surrounding the event.

Q: Women from all walks of life came together today to protest the vendors’ recent stripping of women in trousers and miniskirts. Were you happy with the turn-up?

A: The turn-up [was] very good. The hall [was] filled to capacity despite that it [was] raining outside. It means that people have taken this issue very seriously.

Q: Do you think what has been discussed here will have any impact?

A:I really hope so. It is not just the vendors. It is everyone. But I hope the vendors have heard our outcry. I hope the vendors have heard our condemnation. But most importantly, I hope those in power have heard our cry and know how women of Malawi feel about this. We are feeling vulnerable and we are asking for protection, we are asking for security. The police must protect women, men must protect women and the women themselves must not sit back but fight so that our rights are not violated.

Q: The undressing of women happened in Lilongwe first, and it is also where more women were victimised. Why not hold the protest in Lilongwe?

A: I think it doesn’t really matter where the meeting is. What is important is that the message gets through. This is a national event. There is a good number of people here, we have the Vice-President [Joyce Banda], Minister of Gender [Reen Kachere] and some members of Parliament, including men. We have the clergy and people from all walks of life. Our hope is that the message goes through. It doesn’t matter whether we are in Lilongwe, Mzuzu or Zomba.

Q: Some people are of the view that the vendors acted out of frustration with the current economic and social situation in the country. Do you subscribe to this view?

A: Not at all. That is actually the point that I have made. I am even more frustrated than they are. I am not able to drive my car and I have just told you about how I bought fuel at K1 300 per litre for me to make it to this place. I haven’t done anything to anyone. [Frustration] does not justify what they have done. Economic and social problems do not justify what they have done—violating and degrading women!

Q: Were you happy with the response from government, police and other responsible authorities?

A: It is difficult to assess because it has only been a few days. It happened on Tuesday, and not much on Wednesday and Thursday. Today is Friday and it is quiet. Probably you would think that something is happening, most likely that those who were arrested were the ones committing the offences. For instance, I was in Zomba and the police were everywhere. We are hoping that it is a sign that the authorities have taken control of the situation and that things are under control. In any case, this is the message that we are giving them—that we are watching and we will not remain idle.

Q: Still, what would you want to see the authorities do?

A: One, we want thorough investigations on why these people behaved like this. We are all saying vendors, but there are different types of vendors and most of them are innocent. It is a few thugs who are doing this. There were incidents in Blantyre and we have not heard of any arrests in Blantyre. Secondly, there should be adequate security.

Q: As activists, what action are you going to take to ensure that this does not happen again?

A: We will follow it up. We are not going to sit back and see women being violated. This is a country that is based on rule and law and there is order here. The police say they have arrested some people and we hope that they are going to be charged with all the offenses, we will follow up on each case and we will make sure that we are following up with the police to make sure that there is adequate security in our cities. We will keep mobilising women that they do not sit back and let this happen to others.

We are also reminding people of the Constitution and the laws that are enshrined in it. We are reminding people in authority that they have a responsibility, the obligation to all citizens especially protect women. We will keep talking about it. For the women that were violated, we are asking them that they go to the police especially if they can identify the people who did this to them. We must all take action.

Q: Do you not think this is a sign that there is still need for civic education on issues of human rights and gender violence in the country?

A: No! I have said one does not need gender, human rights or the Constitution. This is just barbaric. It does not need anyone to tell someone that stripping a woman is wrong. You do not need a reminder. People know it is wrong. Why did they do it, this is what we need to find out and make sure it does not happen again?

Q: Any last comments?

A: I think I will say that I am most grateful for the mobilisation that has taken place. A few women met and decided to take action. They refused to be violated. I am most grateful that out leaders, female leaders more especially have shown leadership. We have seen our Vice-President here, our Minister of Gender, some female MPs and we have Mr. Atupele Muluzi which is something very commendable on his part as an MP. This issue cuts across political parties, it cuts across religious issues and it cuts across boy, girl or woman. I am very happy that we have been able to mobilise. I hope the message has been heard and action will be taken. This could lead to chaos, what if next time we take the law into our own hands? We are all Malawians and we should be advocating for peace. The authorities, too, should advocate for our peace.

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