On November 26 2019, Malawi launched the 2019 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (GBV) campaign. The theme for this year is “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!”.
Ironically, the campaign is happening two months after the country witnessed police abuse of women in Msundwe. At a time when police investigations on the case are still ongoing, the 2019 16 Days of Activism Against GBV campaign is an opportunity to amplify the voice against unprofessional conduct of the concerned State agents and also an opportunity to reflect on the response of national gender machinery on the matter.
The Msundwe rape case has unearthed a lot of gaps in the GBV national response that needs urgent attention. It has revealed how highly politicised the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare is at the moment. This politicisation has condensed the ministry to an ineffective and discriminatory gender machinery with no capacity to provide objective GBV response. The ministry seems to be more concerned with the protection of the reputation of the governing party and the police than the rights and welfare of the victims. This is disturbing as it illustrates systematic faults in the national response that require urgent change.
The Msundwe victims require specialised assistance including psycho-social counselling and medical support. While non-State actors have been pulling together resources to provide such support, the lack of action from the ministry is concerning and begs more questions. The reasons however cannot be many other than political.
To date, no arrests have been made and it is not very surprising that the investigation instituted by the police are bearing no fruits. Objectively, cases of this nature should have been investigated and dealt with outside the police force with the coordination of the Ministry of Gender. This is because the police team identified to investigate the case is prone to manipulation both within and outside the police force. The Ministry of Gender should have set up an independent committee comprising of both State and non-State actors to help establish the truth in a timely and objective manner.
The ministry’s silence is a clear indicator of the authorities’ hesitancy to acknowledge the gravity of the problem and its discriminatory effect on the affected women. Nevertheless, authorities should be reminded that no woman should have to fear for her life from domestic abuse while they turn a blind eye to the danger. The government has a responsibility to support and protect survivors of domestic violence, not shut the door in their face. The Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare should refrain from being partisan or risk being responsible for establishing a tolerance of gender based violence and impunity. The Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare should be further cautioned that the politicisation of the GBV national response will leave her ministry ethically unjustifiable and practically impotent to coordinate activities of the response.
In addition, the minister should understand that the inaction of her ministry on this issue constitutes government’s failure to meet its obligations under international law including the Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw). The Cedaw clearly recommends that States should establish or support services for survivors of GBV without partiality.
Moving forward, non-State actors and development partners should push for strong accountability systems within the national response if we are to realise its goals. The only way to achieve this is to acknowledge the damage and the cracks in the system that govern and serve. If key stakeholders will not collaboratively hold the ministry accountable, many GBV victims will suffer exclusion and marginalisation in accessing justice and support. The 16 Days of Activism against GBV campaign provides us a leeway to rethink on how national gender machineries should account for their actions while also holding other State agencies accountable to their actions.