Government of Malawi and the United Nations (UN) agencies are working together in the fight against gender-based violence-a spirit togetherness that has led to revision of action plan that calls for stronger ties to end the malpractice.
Recently, the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare joined forces with the UN family to tackle GBV by making Malawians aware of evils of abusing women and girls.
The collaborative interventions, eased by the involvement of civil society organisations, reached its climax during the 16 Days of Activism against GBV.
From November 24 to the World Human Rights Day on December 10, many organisations came to the front to demand equal and humane treatment of women and girls. Others seized the opportunity to showcase their achievements in the ongoing campaign for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The ministry, with funding from the UN, opened the16-day season of activism with the launch of the revised GBV National Action Plan.
The document mirrors the country’s commitment to eliminate GBV .
Among the highlights, the call to action backs community-led formulation of by-laws to prevent and end violence against women and chiefs.
Dr Mary Shawa, the Principal Secretary of the ministry, urged all campaigners and their backers to recognise chiefs’ power to influence the desired change because traditional leaders command great respect in their communities.
“They should be taken on board in the push to end violence against women and girls,” she says, explaining: “The UN and my ministry are based in the capital city planning and implementing strategies, but we will not achieve the goal of ending violence unless the chiefs are involved in the cause.”
The exploits of senior chiefs Kachindamoto and Kwataine, who are working with their communities and using bylaws to end child marriages and marital abuse, call for greater involvement of chiefs. They live close to both perpetrators and victims of GBV.
“Through this action plan, the chiefs will be encouraged to form by-laws which they will use to punish perpetrators of GBV. We hope this will deter the would-be-offenders,” Shawa says.
She drew attention to Karonga where bylaws formulated by Paramount Chief Kyungu and community leaders are working wonders in creating a safe place for women and girls.
Besides, President Peter Mutharika is a champion of He4She campaign which encourages men to take the leading role in the fight against abuse of women rights.
The action plan details how the chief can deal with people who marry girls aged under 18 as well as rapists, defilers and violent partners.
For example, it is parents who marry off underage girls liable to a punishment of moulding bricks for community structures.
Besides, the parents are obliged to dissolve the child marriage and take the couple to the nearest community victim support unit (VSU) for counselling.
To end forced marriage, it prescribes a fine of K5 000 for any parent who pushes girls into wedlock.
It also requires the children should be withdrawn, taken for medical tests and put back school.
Marrying girl below 16 constitutes defilement under the laws of the land. If offenders do not comply, the matter is supposed to be referred to police and any
“Those who marry underage girls should be reported to the police for prosecution,” Shawa says.
Malawi Police Service (MPS) are part of the joint activities to raise awareness on negative implications of harmful social, cultural and religious practices.
In the campaign to protect and promote the rights of women and girls, the security agency has been handling GBV cases among police officers and the rest of the citizenry.
According to MPS National Women Network coordinator Elizabeth Chambakatha, the law enforcers have acquired relevant skills and ability to entrench gender equality.
“It is important to promote peace among police families before we go out to help others,” she explained:
To end GBV, the network summons and counsels police officers involved in the malpractice.
She said with the support from various non-governmental organisations, there has been positive progress on this.
“When there is peace in the homes of police officers, they will be able to handle citizens’ cases outside,” she said.
Her words echo the theme of the just ended 16 Days of Activism: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World
This was the 25th year since the 16 Days of Activism were set aside in 1991.
Shawa urged Malawians to deeply reflect on the theme, saying it could be a weapon for Malawi’s victory in the struggle to end GBV and achieve gender equality.
She explained: “Peaceful homes collectively form a peaceful nation. Therefore, every citizen should ask himself or herself whether there is peace in their homes. We should ensure that no family member abuses another. Domestic violence towards girl child is what makes more girls drop out of school.”
Her ministry and the UN have been sponsoring radio shows that give survivors of GBV and champions of women’s rights a voice to share real-life experiences.
In an interview, NGO-Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) chairperson Emma Kaliya said there is need for more collaboration among various players to close gender inequalities that militate against the rights and well-being of girls and women. n