In many Malawian cultures, growing up is more than just another milestone. Children moving from one phase of life to another are given relevant advice as the situation demands.
It is the duty of experienced women to sit youngsters, especially girls at the onset of puberty, again when they get married and when they have their first child.
The idea, according to Mangochi based Margaret Phiri is to prepare them for their new roles.
For instance, Phiri says that when a girl reaches adolescence, she receives guidance on self-care when in her monthly periods to ensure hygiene and decency.
Conversely, when she gets married, Phiri says young women are advised to take a bath early in the morning, ensure clean clothes, clean household and dress well, among other things.
“We also tell them to improve their cooking skills to delight their husbands,” says Phiri.
And when the she gives birth for the first time, the woman is counselled not to bed the husband for a certain period.
“She is encouraged to clean herself thoroughly because at this time, she produces a lot of fluids. She also needs to wash baby clothes and items regularly for hygiene. Even before she starts breastfeeding for the day, she needs to have bathed,” says Phiri.
Chancellor College sociologist, Charles Chilimampunga says such counselling is necessary because a girl going into puberty needs to know the changes taking place in her physiology and the emotions associated with them.
“It is necessary that she be informed about her sexual and reproductive health. I feel that what often misses during initiation is teaching the initiates their rights and responsibilities. The information she gets must be properly packaged so that she understands and is able to utilise it for her own benefit,” he says.
When she gets married, Chilimampunga says it is also necessary to counsel her on how to behave as a married woman.
Similarly, he adds that when she has her first child, she needs to know not only how to take care of the baby, but also herself.
“These things do not come naturally. As human beings, we learn from others through initiation, a form of socialisation. It is important for counsellors such as anankungwi to be experts. It should not be any Jack and Jim who may, for example, focus on ‘training’ the girl or woman on sex rather than sexuality or how to become an obedient wife,” says Chilimampunga.
He adds that counselling should not be limited to girls and women, but extend to boys and men too. n