For a long time, women from Kamtayeni Village in Traditional Authority Chiwere in Dowa have been suffering in ignorance of their rights. Most of them never knew about their basic rights, let alone how to claim those rights.
An encounter with a 64-year-old Ediliya Chizu tells it all. Born and raised in this village, Ediliya says what she knew as she was growing up was that life-changing opportunities such as education, income -generating activities and agricultural activities are principally for men.
Ediliya took this as the norm. To her, if the village registers more men than women to receive coupons to get subsidised fertiliser under the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), it was normal. Indeed, it was normal for a man to unilaterally decide to sell maize and use the money for drinking beer even if there was no food in his household. Yes, it was normal for parents to send a boy to school while leaving his sister at home because she will marry one day.
Little did Ediliya know that, as a woman, she has the right to participate in activities that enhance her life chances within her home, her community and beyond.
When Ediliya heard about Tiwoloke Village Saving and Loan (VSL) group, a network of women established to empower them to stand up and challenge certain practices that hinder their progress in life, she joined it.
“We were told that we have the right to speak if we notice some things going wrong in our community. This was news to me,” Ediliya says.
The network was formed with technical support from Mponela Aids Information and Counselling Centre (Maicc) under Care Malawi’s Women and Adolescent Girls Voice Enhancement in Service Delivery (Waves) Project. This project is funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), Irish Aid and the Norwegian Embassy through the Tilitonse Fund, a multi–donor pooled grant-making facility that supports governance in Malawi.
Ediliya was immediately chosen to lead the network, but initially she resisted it. She had never led any group, let alone speak on behalf of a grouping as big as this 60-member network. Even in her own home, she could not speak out on issues that affected her life. Her husband decided everything.
“I was scared. But I was encouraged by the Care officials,” she says.
With a series of trainings in network formation, management and gender equality in access and utilisation of services, Ediliya and other members of the group were up for the task. They understood their rights and were determined to claim them.
Ediliya says: “I came to know that denying women the opportunity to participate in economic or agricultural activities was a violation of rights.”
Charity begins at home, so they say. For the first time in over 30 years in marriage, Ediliya surprised her husband when she expressed displeasure on the continued sale of maize meant for food. With little resistance, the husband understood Ediliya’s point. The story is now different.
“These days, we plan and budget together with my husband. We make collective decisions on issues that affect us as a family,” she says.
Ediliya says they decided to grow sawa (groundnuts) for sale and maize for food; so they no longer sell maize which is meant for food.
She says with the skills that she acquired from Care’s Waves project she has led the group to demand the inclusion of more women in Fisp.
“In the past, we were afraid to speak in the presence of our village head, but today we freely raise issues that affect us,” she says.
But Ediliya has one more challenge to surmount. She has never attended any formal education. It takes a good five minutes for her to write her own name. How then does she write, if the need to do so arises?
“Sometimes when we go to government offices to ask for assistance, we are told to put our issues in writing. But I can’t write,” she says.
Ediliya feels it is not too late to learn basic writing and reading skills. At 64, she has enrolled for an adult literacy class, introduced through WeRise Project of Care Malawi.
Under Ediliya’s leadership, women from Kamtayeni Village are quickly moving from oblivion to the forefront. About 22 women from the network received farm input coupons this year compared to eight who received them last year.
Project manager for the Care Malawi’s Waves Project, Hazel Kantayeni hails the network for standing up for the rights of women, noting that for a long time women have been suffering in silence.
“We are empowering these women to hold their leaders accountable. It’s encouraging to note that women are now being included in various community-based programmes, including public works programmes and the Fisp.
“If women voice out issues that hinder their progress, duty bearers will start to be responsive to their needs. It starts with women themselves speaking out instead of someone speaking for them. That’s why we have facilitated the formation of these women networks,” Kantayeni says.