Malawi’s Women Seek Cultural Rights Changes

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Women’s rights activists in Malawi say despite laws that protect them on paper, there are still societal barriers that treat women as second class citizens.

Bhatupe Mhango, a Malawi human rights worker now based in Liberia, said during one recent incident, women wearing skirts and shorts were molested and harassed by vendors. She said this highlights the obstacles facing the country’s females on a daily basis.

“They [activists] are really asking for society to change their attitudes, their mindsets on how women are perceived in society as a whole,” said Mhango.

“There’s a problem in the day-to-day practice of how women are handled, let’s say in marriage or how they are handled upon dissolution of a marriage.”

Mhango said activists are ramping up their efforts, but their voice is still very “weak” at a national level.

“Malawians tends to be a very moralistic culture, very conservative. And it’s more than just appealing to society. It’s about appealing to key government ministries, but it’s also about appealing to custodians of our culture…It’s very difficult for women to get their voices heard through these holders of power.”

Mhango said one important issue that remains to be addressed both legally and culturally is a woman’s right to a safe abortion.

“The problem with when it’s illegal is that it forces people to go underground,” she added.

Mhango said this leads to unnecessary health risks and this is what activists are pushing to change.

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