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Malawi President Bungu wa Mutharika on Thursday says he won't tolerate attacks on women for wearing non-traditional dress.
Women in Malawi plan to protest in the streets Friday over recent beatings by street-vendor mobs who beat and stripped naked several women for wearing trousers or miniskirts instead of the south Africa country's traditional dress.
Malawi's president on Thursday ordered the arrest of anyone who attacks women for their apparel.
"I will not allow anyone to wake up and go on the streets and start undressing women and girls wearing trousers, because that is illegal," President Bingu wa Mutharika told state radio on Thursday. "Every woman and girl has the right to dress the way they wish."
"No one should lie that I have asked vendors to assault women dressed in trousers. It's a lie and I will not allow that," the president said.
Malawi had laws until 1994 under the autocratic rule of Hastings Banda that banned women from wearing short skirts and men having long hair or flared trousers, the BBC reported. It dropped the restrictions when multi-party democracy was introduced.
However, this week street vendors attacked several women in Lilongwe and commercial capital Blantyre over their dress, saying they were enforcing a government decree.
Seodi White, a lawyer and leading women's rights activist, told the BBC that protesters would gather Friday "in solidarity with the victims and to express our indignation at such barbaric treatment of mothers, wives and daughters of our country".
Malawi's Vice-President Joyce Banda earlier blamed the attacks on Malawi's economic woes, the BBC said.
"There is so much suffering that people have decided to vent their frustrations on each other," she said.
The country faces severe shortages of fuel and foreign currency, the BBC said.
Reuters contributed to this report.