Violent Thauzeni, 24, from Ntchisi District is too traumatised to open up about her oppressive marital life.
While performing some household chores in Mwalala Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kalumo, Thauzeni’s voice is drowned out by spontaneous sobs as she narrates how a man she once dearly loved almost ended her life.
She says: “Ever since I got married to him in 2014, I was living like a slave. He would shout at me and beat me up as he pleased.
“Growing up, we were told to persevere in marriage, so I kept suffering in silence in the hope that one day, he would change and we would start living happily again, as husband and wife.”
The mother of three feared divorcing her oppressive husband would invite family members’ and community’s ridicule. But as Thauzeni prayed for a peaceful matrimonial home, her husband was up to more violence against her.
One fateful night in 2020,he joined Thauzeni in the bed on the pretext of making love. It, however, turned out to be the worst and the most painful moment of her life.
“While pretending to remove his clothes, he fished out a sharp object and mutilated my genitals. I tried to push him away, but he overpowered me and still managed to cause grievous harm on my private parts. I believe he wanted to use them for rituals,” she recalls, battling to hold back tears.
The following morning, Thauzeni sought some traditional medication to lessen the pain. Her burning desire to report the matter to police was frustrated by the prohibitive transport costs to the institution, which is some 20 kilometres away. Neither did she have the money to pay the chief to have her matter heard for possible referral.
Thauzeni is one of three women that experience physical and sexual violence in their lifetime in Malawi as estimated by the United Nations.
Ntchisi district gender officer Chikondi Macheso says rising poverty and cultural practices push more women and girls into various forms of sexual and gender-based violence in the district.
Her remarks were echoed at the recent Generation Equality Conference in Lilongwe where some gender experts on the African continent bemoaned rising sexual and gender-based violence cases and called on leaders to confront the vice.
“Some of the walls of exclusion have been broken, but we cannot stop because equity and injustice are still hampered by continuing practices of misogyny, stereotype and patriarchy,” remarked Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia during the opening session of the conference which was held under the theme Growing and Glowing Against All Odds.
But thanks to the Spotlight Initiative’s project in Ntchisi District, Thauzeni’s story ended in triumph and hope other survivors.
The project is a multi-year partnership between the European Union and United Nations to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls.
ActionAid Malawi is an implementing partner of the Spotlight Initiative programme in Mzimba and Ntchisi districts where the organisation is working with various structures, including Community Victim Support Units to assist survivors under the Toto Nkhanza project.
The project’s package includes the Survivor and Community Funds which enable the units to assist survivors with logistics to facilitate access to justice and other essential services such as medication.
After reporting the matter to Kenneth Malikebu, a member of Kalumo unit, Thauzeni was helped to report to Police and throughout the case hearing process.
Malikebu says Kalumo unit used the Survivor Fund amounting to K80 000 to meet the costs of transport and food for Thauzeni and a guardian to facilitate litigation and seek medication at Ntchisi District Hospital.
In April 2022, Ntchisi Magistrate’s court sentenced Malikebu’s spouse to six years imprisonment with hard labour.
Single but finally free, Thauzeni believes that without the intervention of the unit through Survivor Fund, she would still be living under the yoke of violence.
“I am now back at my parent’s home as a single mother. However, I am grateful to Kalumo unitand Spotlight Initiative project for freeing me from violence and I hope that they assist other women in a situation like mine. I will now take farming seriously and hope to engage in some income-generating activities to sustain my family,” she says.
Since its inception in 2020, the project has benefitted 50 survivors of gender-based violence, all of them women and young girls in T/A Kalumo. Another 61 survivours were assisted through the Community Fund
To continue bailing out survivours beyond the project’s lifespan, Malikebu says Kalumo unit has turned the Community Fund worth K1 7 million into a loan and savings scheme, with members ploughing back part of the profits into the fund.
“We have seen the importance of supporting survivours with access to justice and medication and now we want to own the initiative so that it is sustainable, and it benefits more women and girls,” he says.