Lifestyle & Belief

Malawi gang "terrorized women wearing pants," police say


Local women and children, dressed conservatively in long skirts and dresses, gather as Madonna visits their village on the outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi.


Michelly Rall

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Police in Malawi have caught a gang accused of terrorizing women wearing pants.

Local media reported that 15 men were arrested Wednesday for stripping women wearing pants, short skirts and leggings, in the capital Lilongwe. The women were in some cases stripped naked and groped.

There have been similar reports of attacks on women in the northern town of Mzuzu.

Under the nearly 30-year rule of dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda, women in Malawi were banned from wearing pants and mini-skirts. Men were forbidden from having long hair.

This ended when Banda was ousted in 1994, but Malawi, a tiny country in southern Africa, remains deeply conservative.

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In Mzuzu on Wednesday, "shops closed as irate vendors went berserk undressing women" accused of "indecently dressing," according to the Nyasa Times.

There were reports of men stopping minibus taxis and searching for women wearing pants or short skirts, the Times reported.

Malawian women are planning to protest the attacks on Friday in Blantyre, the country's commercial capital.

Some women have threaten to strip off their clothes and protest naked if the attacks continue.

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Nancy Tembo, spokeswomen for the opposition Malawi Congress Party, said the public stripping amounted to violence against women.

"Police women wear trousers, mechanic women wear trousers, why do we have to live in fear?" she told the Nyasa Times.

Lilongwe police said the men arrested will likely be charged with breach of peace and theft. Riot police are patrolling the streets of Lilongwe to prevent further attacks.

While the men were originally said to be vendors in the city center, this was later disputed, with police saying the gang's motive was to steal from women. 

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