Malawi is fed up with Madonna and her school daze, with the singer’s refusal to consult and her autocratic ways. Given the autocratic politics of the Mutharika regime, that’s both quite a statement and none at all. Madonna’s foundation, Raising Malawi (a telling name), has reportedly spent $3.8 million on a state-of-the-art school for girls outside of the Lilongwe. What’s there to show for that? Nothing.
But the bigger picture is that Malawi is fed up, and not only the Mutharika government with Madonna.
Women are fed up with the ways in which the State has failed to respond to HIV and AIDS, and in particular to the ways in which HIV+ women live. For example, Bhatupe Mhango, gospel singer, activist, Malawian, is fed up with the injunction to keep silent about her HIV+ status. She is fed up with being fed up as well. Along with so many others, she is fed up with being told that she must not even whisper about her ‘condition’. She is fed up with State blaming everyone, including ‘the Chinese’, while the illness spreads. And so she is singing out, speaking out, writing out, and organizing.
It’s what women organizing do every day, in Malawi as everywhere. As Hope Chigudu, Ugandan-born Zimbabwe-based feminist organizer in Malawi has explained the process, women gather together, speak, listen, tell stories, listen, share, create and support safe spaces for sharing, demystify the body, attend to new and older forms of leadership, attend to new and older leaders, work at keeping the processes open and sustaining, generate knowledge, cross the line.
Women cross the line all the time. What does that mean?
It means that when discussions of girls’ education in Malawi must be conducted by Malawian women and girls. What comes first? Is it private, safe, secure and clean toilets? Is it daycare for girl students’ children? Questions that cannot be asked or answered from London or Tokyo or Washington, DC.
And so, the women of Malawi are fed up. Over the weekend, the government held a Women of Distinction ceremony, at the ‘magnificent’ State House. Only problem was too many women showed up. So, when the women retired to the restrooms and found that the women’s toilets was actually the woman’s toilet, they ‘invaded’ the men’s restrooms. More like … occupied, liberated, socialized and demystified.
The distinctive and distinguished women of Malawi said no to the architecture of patriarchy and yes to themselves. They said, “Yes, yes we can go in there, for we are many.” And they did.