Activists demand apology over remarks on Joyce Banda

Activists demand apology over remarks on Joyce Banda

Date: June 3, 2020
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By Joseph Kayira

Blantyre, 3 June – Women and rights groups, gender activists, civil society and politicians are demanding an apology from Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika for calling his predecessor Joyce Banda a ‘prostitute’ during a whistle stop political campaign in his home district 40 kilometres south of the commercial city of Blantyre.

Rights activists have reacted to the president’s unpalatable words saying his remarks were derogatory and demeaning to all women.

Women’s Manifesto Movement (WOMAN), a grouping of like-minded institutions and organisations that advocates for the protection and fulfillment of women’s rights in Malawi said “the president should categorically apologise to the former head of state in both private and public media.”

“In his remarks the President referred to Dr Joyce Banda as Hule (Prostitute) and Madeya (Husks) something that is not expected from a leader and father of a nation. It is very disappointing to hear these insulting remarks from a Global HeforShe Champion who is expected to champion rights of women and girls,” says WOMAN in statement.

Created by the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, (UN Women) the HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality provides a systematic approach and targeted platform where a global audience can engage and become change agents for the achievement of gender equality in our lifetime. HeForShe invites people around the world to stand together as equal partners to craft a shared vision of a gender equal world and implement specific, locally relevant solutions for the good of all of humanity.

WOMAN said it regarded this as a serious act of violence against women perpetrated by the very same leader who is supposed to defend and protect the constitution of the Republic of Malawi.

“The remarks are very demeaning to all women and girls including those who were cheering him on. The State President should adhere to the promise of conducting violence-free, issue-based campaign that he signed during the 2019 election period. All political party leaders should be exemplary by desisting from engaging in physical and verbal violence and stick to issue-based campaign,” the statement added.

NGO Gender Coordination Network chairperson Barbara Banda said she was disappointed and disturbed that it was the president who is in the forefront of attacking women using undignified language.

“I ask the President to act responsibly. The responsibility to treat women with dignity is in the hands of leaders. What happened in Thyolo is disheartening and demeaning. We have a Gender Equality Act in this country which gives women equal opportunity and freedom to participate in politics and any others sectors of the economy. Such actions have the power to discourage women from participating in politics,” she said.

She said similar unfortunate sentiments were also directed at women contesting during the party primary elections in 2019 where some politicians deliberately frustrated women from actively participating in politics and elections.

“Women in positions create an environment that becomes a necessary voice for fellow women. It is something we should be encouraging not personal attacks on women leaders. If you want to talk about sustainable development involve women. Look at the countries that have women leaders – New Zealand and Norway – they have done very well on tackling COVID-19 pandemic,” Banda said.

She also bemoaned what a pro-ruling party whatsapp group did by including her name and that of another activist on their group without their consent and castigated them.

“They added my name and that of another gender activist Maggie Kathewera Banda on a whatsapp group without our consent and started castigating us for condemning what the president did. This bullying will not help matters. We are saying two wrongs do not make one right. This intimidation must stop. We will continue fighting for the rights of women in this country no matter how they intimidate us,” Banda said.

‘Stop threatening gender activists’

Prominent gender activist Emma Kaliya said she was aware of threats and the bullying taking place on social media towards some of the gender activists who condemned the attacks on former president Banda.

She described the threats and intimidation on gender activists as sad and shocking coming at a time when President Mutharika is a Global HeforShe Champion.

“What was said in Thyolo insults the modesty of a woman. We are asking those in authority to slow down on that kind of language. The insulting language will not stop us from fighting for the rights of women. It will not stop us from condemning those that insult women,” Kaliya said.

She asked President Mutharika to reflect on what he said during the whistle stop tour saying what was uttered is not only morally wrong “but also legally wrong.”

“He may not even apologise but what he has done is insulting not only to Mrs Banda but to all women of Malawi. It is sad that there were women, traditional leaders and cabinet ministers who were acknowledging and cheering when the former president was being attacked.

“It is so unfortunate that there is a group of people who see nothing wrong in all this. They are the ones who are now attacking gender activists on social media. We are saying we are all Malawians… Stop insulting and threatening women; stop this moral decay,” Kaliya said.

Executive Director for Coalition of the Empowerment of Women and Girls (CEWAG), Beatrice Mateyu said the president should desist from attacks on women “because by calling Joyce Banda a hule [prostitute] he has called all of us hule.”

“Joyce Banda did not deserve the attack. What we expect is to have a campaign that is issue-based where leaders tell us what they intend to do for the country once elected. Mrs Banda should go to court or the Office of the Ombudsman to lodge her case. We need to set an example of these politicians that degrade women; that is not right,” Mateyu said.

She said gender activists and women who are asking the President Mutharika to apologise are justified because “this [the insults] can have an implication on other women that aspire to contest for leadership positions.”

“As a starting point, we need the president to denounce violence and urge his supporters to do the same and ensure that this is adhered to,” she said.

Mateyu said in a largely patriarchal society like Malawi, “men’s views are taken seriously in communities and Mutharika’s sexist remarks will have a negative effect on the fight against Gender-Based Violence.”

Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leader Gift Trapence also condemned the attacks on the former president saying Mutharika should immediately apologise to Banda and all women in Malawi.

“We cannot have a leader who is in the forefront castigating women. As a leader who is an ambassador for HeforShe he should be the first one to cast that stone. That is why we are saying that he has to apologise and that the UN take off this position from the president because he is not exemplary enough.

“We would want women to respected, we would want girls to be respected. If it is the issue of politics it should also be on issue-based not castigating each other not demeaning the dignity of  women in Malawi. As a country we have very good laws that promote and protect the rights of women in this country,” Trapence said.

Tonse Alliance, an alliance comprising opposition parties led by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party, said it was appalled by the Mutharika’s remarks insulting the dignity and womanhood of the former president in the most disgusting disgraceful manner.

“The vulgarity to which the president has thus allowed himself to stoop is a new low for our country. it certifies him as a chauvinist with no regard for the dignity of women,” Tonse Alliance said a statement co-signed by Patricia Mkanda, MCP Director of Women and Annie Makuta, UTM Party Director of Women.

The statement added: “However as Malawian women, we cannot stand idly by as the presidency of our country is used to launch a despicable attack on its first and only female occupant. Throughout her life and career, Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda has distinguished herself as a champion for women’s rights, and President Mutharika’s gall to defame her womanhood is a great travesty worthy of universal repudiation.”

There was no immediate response from State House on calls for President Mutharika to apologise for his attack on former president Banda.

* Joseph Kayira is a journalist from Malawi. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service


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