Marching for "bread and roses" on Valentine's Day

400 Zimbabwean women -- several with infants -- are arrested during a protest.

Published February 14, 2006 11:02PM (EST)

Everyone who thinks that Feb. 14 is just a Hallmark holiday, meet the Women of Zimbabwe Arise.

Some 400 women had been arrested in that country Tuesday, Reuters reported, at the third annual Valentine's Day protest against economic hardship. In Zimbabwe, where 24 percent of the adult population is HIV positive, the average life expectancy for women is 38 years, and 40 for men, according to the CIA World Factbook. Zimbabwe, which suffers from chronic food and fuel shortages, soaring unemployment and the highest rate of inflation in the world, has banned public demonstrations without a police permit since 2000.

But that hasn't stopped the activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise, whose march this year had the theme "bread and roses." Some 242 women from the group were arrested in the capital city of Harare on Tuesday. "They were marching to demand affordable prices for basic food commodities and respect for their dignity. Five babies were also in the group. They are currently in police custody and looking to spend the night in jail," Annie Sibanda, a spokeswoman for the group, told Reuters.

An additional 181 women, including 15 mothers with babies, who were arrested in a pre-Valentine's Day march in the city of Bulawayo spent Monday night in prison, according to their lawyer, Perpetua Dube.

"They are mostly housewives, the people who have to cook the food that is now in short supply," Dube told Reuters. "They are saying we need love, we need food."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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