‘Malawi, Japan lag in gender equality’

When a baby comes, women normally ululate, but the ululations are louder and longer when the newborn is a boy.

And, when growing up, girls are heaped with household chores as boys go about playing.

Among the speakers: Yanagisawa flanked by Kamanga (L) and Nyirenda

Boys have all the time and energy to do their homework. In the end, they perform better in school.

Essentially, such socially constructed attributes of men and women cause unequal relationships.

At a recent Girl Chat Foundation seminar in Blantyre, Japanese Ambassador to Malawi Kae Yanagisawa drew some similarities between Japanese and Malawian cultures where issues of gender are concerned.

She noted that the stereotypes between men and women make it difficult for women to claim their rights, and also do what they want.

“Women’s status is low both in Malawi and in Japan, particularly in terms of gender equality. It is the social norms that make women seem lower than men. It is important that we work together, as women, for the betterment of fellow women,” she said.

Comparing the two cultures further, Yanagisawa, however, noted that child marriage cases are very low in Japan, although their Constitution allows girls to be married by the age of 16.

“Many years ago, it was common to see women getting married as teenagers, but that is very minimal now,” she said.

But the envoy said she was encouraged to see Malawian women, some of them very young, taking up leadership positions in different organisations.

“Some of them are very young, but show their talent, which is rare in Japan. So, even though we have a cohort of young professional women, we still need to wait more years to see what is happening in Malawi,” she said.

The seminar, held under the theme, ‘Keeping abreast with laws that touch women’s day-to-day lives and understanding one’s path in life’, also saw the women enlightened on issues of mental health, women’s rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Malawi, and the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.

Speaking about mental health, clinical psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe said mental health is a state of well-being and that extends beyond mental illness to cover factors that affect a person’s quality of life.

“When trauma comes, it becomes a mental issue and it can affect the way we relate with others. It also impacts one’s happiness and quality of life. As such, it is important that after a traumatic experience, one should try and reconstruct their identity because it gets lost after trauma. It is also important to take responsibility for recovery from whatever happened,” he said.

Founder for Girl Chat Foundation Rosemary Kanyuka said the foundation works with women of all ages through sharing of problems and solutions.

“Women that have completed their education and are not sure about what to do come to Girl Chat for help. Recent divorcees, too, get help. We give them confidence and help them understand that they are not outcasts; hence they can blend back into society. Even elderly persons feeling lonely, Girl Chat visits and cheers them up,” explained Kanyuka.

Other speakers at the seminar included High Court judges Dorothy Kamanga, Kenyatta Nyirenda and former clerk of Parliament Matilda Katopola.

Girl Chat has been in existence since last year and was registered two months ago.

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