Today, Malawian women protested after several women were brutally beaten and stripped naked by male street vendors for the offense of not-wearing-dresses in public.
Street vendors accused women of defying cultural norms and attacked them this week in Lilongwe and Blantyre, two of the nation’s largest cosmopolitan centers.
“They beat them up and stripped them naked, claiming they did not follow the tradition,” said Seodi White, a rights activist and protest organizer. “Attacking women in trousers is an outrage. We are a democracy, they’re taking us back to the dark ages.”
Protesters wore pants, miniskirts and leggings in a show of solidarity as they gathered to condemn the attacks.
While this protest may (or may not) evoke familiar imagery from last summer’s “SlutWalk” protests, unlike SlutWalk, this protest sticks to the issues, and makes it clear what they are getting at. Importantly, these women actually name the agent of harm: men, attacking women, out of contempt for women.
The Malawian protesters make a coherent political point, and managed to attract high-level political attention for their cause, where SlutWalk pretty decidedly failed at both. Perhaps we can learn something from their example.
To begin with, here, the issue was women being attacked by men for not-wearing-dresses in public, and the protesters didn’t-wear-dresses in solidarity with those women. In other words, what the Malawian protesters wore was actually relevant to the issue. These women make a coherent political point: women have the legal right to not-wear-dresses, and male civilian vigilantes policing their behavior are wrong and demonstrate their contempt for women where Malawian women are human beings and have legal status that says so.
Whereas the SlutWalkers’ point, apparently, was that they *should be* able to wear whatever they want and not be blamed by the cops for their own rapes, when men inevitably rape them. Huh?
Next, the Malawian protesters managed to include men in their protest without titillating them, and without the men’s interests or voices overwhelming the women’s interests and voices. How’d they do that?
And supporters chanted “We are strong!” during the protests, and definitely did not chant “We are sluts!” or anything self-deprecating or ironic (or incoherent or misguided) that might be misconstrued or obfuscate the issues.
Interestingly, Malawian citizens appear to have had gender-equality formally written into their constitution, and Americans, to date, have not. So the Malawian protesters actually appear to be legally supported in their assertions that they are full human beings with full legal status, and are 1) calling attention to men who fail to respect that and 2) demanding tougher laws to protect women against men, because men continue to devalue women and ignore their legal status, and value misogyny and misogynistic cultural and religious “tradition” instead:
Malawi guarantees gender equality in its constitution, but disparities remain in almost all aspects including education, employment and political power, according to human rights groups.
“Like a lot of Africa, there is a culture of instilling fear in women because people know they are voiceless even though they are guaranteed equality on paper,” said Faustace Chirwa, executive director of Malawi-based National Women’s Lobby Group.
Chirwa blamed the attacks on young men frustrated with the system who were venting their anger on women because they were easy targets.
“A lot of men in Africa believe they can dictate what women can do,” she said. “We need tougher laws to protect women.”
Chirwa said the Friday initiative is a step for women in Malawi to regain their constitutional rights.
Whereas the SlutWalkers didn’t even ask whether rape laws were tough enough, whether gender-equality should be a constitutional right (in countries where it’s not), or what could be done to give voices to women when they are routinely silenced by men who demonstrate their utter contempt for women, particularly through the use of sexualized violence.