Shortly after Maulana Bwanali joined Shyreen Benson in holy matrimony three years ago, he found a girlfriend.
Three is a crowd, so the saying goes and Bwanali, who comes from John Wasili Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Amidu in Balaka confesses that the girlfriend caused a lot of problems in his marriage.
“I carried my phone to the bathroom as I could not risk my wife picking up my girlfriend’s calls. Marriage counsellors (ankhoswe) intervened, but I thought they were more judgemental than reasonable. So, my affair proceeded,” said the father of a two-year-old daughter.
It was not until community action groups (CAG) members working with Women’s Legal Resource Centre (Wolrec) counselled him that he ended the affair.
“Their approach was much better. They explained the ills of living a double life. That intervention led us to overcoming gender-based violence (GBV). We are happier now and work together in developmental activities. I can leave my phone anywhere in the house, not afraid that my wife will go through it and find messages that might cause problems,” he said.
Bwanali now advocates against GBV. He gave his testimony in Balaka recently when Wolrec commemorated the 16 Days of Activism against GBV.
The campaign this year is themed, Leave no one behind: End violence against women and girls.
Wolrec also works with traditional leaders being custodians of culture and community faith leaders.
Its communications, monitoring and evaluation manager Dumase Zgambo-Mapemba said these groups help in sustaining the project.
“There are harmful traditional practices putting women and girls at risk of contracting HIV. As a way of alleviating poverty, some parents force girls into early marriages. Often such girls are married off to older and richer men who sometimes end up abusing them.
“So far, reports of GBV cases have risen with increased knowledge. We have also seen reformation of perpetrators,” she explained.
Wolrec has worked in T/A Amidu’s area since January 2016 and their projects wind up in December 2019.
Trocaire’s gender equality technical adviser Steven Iphani said his organisation encourages 365 days of activism.
“We believe in working for a just world where all GBV victims find justice; GBV is an enemy of development,” he observed.
He noted that many people do not understand laws such as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act which protect them against violence.
Iphani also said more are unaware of the forms of violence that constitute GBV.
“Many things have been normalised. With such normalisation, violence is not reported. There are also some institutions with attitudes that discourage people from reporting cases of violence,” he said.
He observed that people need to understand what violence is and look at how it can be prevented in order to address these issues.
He also added that existing laws and policies around GBV need to be popularised, arguing that if not known, they can never be relevant.