Saturday, January 21, 2012


Blantyre, Malawi (AP) - It’s been 18 years since the late dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s “indecency in dress” laws were repealed in Malawi, but mobs of men and boys in the largely conservative southern African country have recently been publicly stripping women of their miniskirts and pants.  Friday, hundreds of outraged girls and women, among them prominent politicians, protested the attacks while wearing pants or miniskirts and T-shirts emblazoned with such slogans as: “Real men don’t harass women.” “Some of us have spent our entire life fighting for the freedom of women,” Vice President Ms Joyce Banda told the protesters. “It’s shocking some men want to take us back to bondage,” she added.  The attacks took on such importance that President Bingu wa Mutharika went on state television and radio on the eve of the protest to assure women they were free to wear what they want.

The president ordered police to arrest anyone who attacks women wearing pants or miniskirts. He said in a local language, Chichewa. “I will not allow anyone to wake up and go on the streets and start undressing women and girls wearing trousers because that is criminal.” During Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s 1963-1994 dictatorship, women in Malawi were banned from wearing pants and short skirts. Banda lost power in the country’s first multiparty election in 1994 and he died three years later. While Banda is gone, strains of conservatism remain in the impoverished, largely rural nation. Some of the street vendors who have attacked women in recent days claimed it was un-Malawian to dress in miniskirts and pants. Some said it was a sign of loose morals or prostitution. The protesters were wearing pants, miniskirts and leggings in a show of solidarity as they gathered to condemn the attacks.

Malawian women protested about attacks on women for wearing trousers. Some women were beaten and stripped by vendors on the streets for wearing pants, leggings and miniskirts, instead of dresses. They accused women of defying cultural norms and attacked them claiming they did not follow the tradition.  Women have also been attacked for wearing trousers in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Puritanical mentality is based on external materialistic issues, not on spiritual considerations.

If we truly believe, even theoretically, that we “are not this body,” then why do we care whether our bodily duties are “higher” or “lower” than someone else’s?  Such things are temporary, external, and don’t touch the real self. ... Most difficulties with understanding the position of women can be solved if we understand that all of us have two duties: material and spiritual.  The spiritual duties, the nine processes of devotional service, are equally available to every human being regardless of age, gender, race, intelligence, health, etc. etc. ... Why not just accept the body we have for this life, and work with it so as to please Krishna and make our life peaceful, so that we can concentrate our time and energy on what’s truly important-loving and remembering Krishna.

Śrīmati Urmila devi dasi :
“Prabhupada's Views on Women”

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