Malawians protest against stripping of women

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By Penelope Paliani-Kamanga

Lilongwe ‑ Hundreds of Malawian women from diverse backgrounds, including civil society organisations (CSOs) and different political parties held a peaceful march this week to denounce political violence against women. The protest was sparked by a recent attack on two women in Mangochi, who were undressed for wearing their party regalia.

The march, which was held in the capital Lilongwe, saw women including those from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose cadres are alleged to have stripped the women, uniting in a march around the city to the Lilongwe District Commissioner’s office where they presented a petition to the Office of the President and Cabinet and Malawi Police Service.

Vice President Saulos Chilima has since asked President Peter Mutharika to rein in the boys who are believed to be from the ruling DPP, who stripped the women publicly.

Chilima, at a press conference, said the president should not just sugar coat in his condemnation of the political violence but he should name and shame and bring to book his men who undressed the women.

During the march, the women wailed, danced and chanted ‑ a gesture symbolising their cry in the wake of the disgrace and pain being inflicted by the perpetrators of violence.

Speaking during the march, chairperson of the women caucus in parliament Jessie Kabwila described the Mangochi incident as retrogressive, remarking: “Just because women choose to participate in politics does not mean we are promiscuous and our rights should be respected”.

She also warned that if the trend continues, people should expect women representation to decline further in parliament from the current 16% and the 50:50 campaign will not yield any results.

Representing independent shadow women parliamentarians, Lucy Lunguzi Mauluka called on the state president to act and live up to his word as a HEFORSHE champion.

In the petition, the women insisted that the cases of violence, especially against women, undermine the President’s status as a HeForShe champion, saying: “Having sworn to protect and uphold the Constitution, Mr President we want your visible, tangible action and protection of women in politics.”

Mutharika last week condemned the cases of violence but fell short of condemning suspected DPP youth cadres accused of perpetrating the violence on members of opposition Malawi Congress Party and UTM Party.

Notable figures, who participated in the march, included Lilongwe City Council Deputy Mayor Juliana Kaduya, Gender Coordinating Network chairperson Barbara Banda, Malawi Human Rights Commission executive secretary David Nungu, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation executive director Timothy Mtambo and Women’s Caucasus in Parliament chairperson Jessie Kabwila. Women from different political parties, including the governing DPP, were also in attendance.

The petition contained specific demands to duty-bearers, including President Peter Mutharika, Inspector General of Police Rodney Jose and Minister of Gender, Children and Disability and Social Welfare Cecilia Chazama.

In messages inscribed on placards, the women said it was hypocrisy to undress them as it happened to a UTM Party member in Mangochi and expect the womenfolk to vote for the predominantly male presidential aspirants in the May 21, 2019, tripartite elections.

Females make the majority of registered voters at 3.8 million out of 6.8 million. The youth, at 3.7 million — 2.1 females and 1.6 million males — form a majority demographic group at 54% of total registered voters.

Malawi Police Service has come under fire, especially from opposition parties, CSOs and Malawi Law Society, for turning a blind eye on cases of political violence notably against the opposition sympathisers.

Apart from the attack of the women, Malawi has registered a number of political violence cases, including the assault of Mulanje South legislator and UTM director of youth Bon Kalindo, attack on UTM members including Veronica Katanga who was ordered to take off her party regalia, assault of MCP supporter Edward Govati in Blantyre and the torching of MCP flags in Mangochi.

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