Sixteen Days of Activism is an annual ritual we observe with so much gusto. During the commemoration Malawi joins the international community in amplifying the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). For 16 days, we raise our voices to drive home the message that GBV is evil and has no place in our country. Government, civil society, media and the private sector work together or are supposed to jointly take the message about GBV to every corner of the country. Raise awareness about its evils and make people aware of the punitive measures against it.
Unfortunately, despite all the campaign against GBV all these years, the vice, so it is believed, is on the rise. It is reported that over 822 women and girls were raped or defiled between January and October this year. This is shocking. In fact, not a single woman or girl should be raped or defiled.
Regrettably, no one seems to have figures for the same period last year to compare with this year’s. This is what would give us a conclusive position that rape and defilement cases have indeed been on the rise during the past year. Until a survey is conducted to ascertain such, I will insist that GBV, especially in form of rape and defilement, have always been a serious problem in the country. But what might have changed these past months or year is the level of reporting on these social ills. The increased use of social media is likely to have amplified reporting of rape and defilement cases in real time.
Weekend Nation, a Nation Publications Limited weekly publication dedicates a full page to reported crimes as handled by the country’s police and courts. The page carries stories on rape and defilement cases, theft, burglary and robbery. On average, half of the stories are on rape and defilement with the latter topping the list. The stories are about suspects being hunted down by law enforcers, suspects in custody, suspects on trial, as well as convicts or those who have been acquitted.
A majority of the culprits are relations to the victims. For this reason, according to GBV activists, many rape and defilement cases go unreported. Police depend on community members for them to know what crime has taken place. The Health Policy Project report published in 2015, covering 2010—2015, reports that “3 percent of women reported having ever experienced … rape; attempted rape; defilement; … Among the girls who reported cases of inappropriate touching, 48.7 percent reported that it had.” This means that had the three percent (over 500 000 victims) reported the rape or defilement cases to Police during the five-year period of the survey, the country’s Police stations and courts would have been inundated with rape and defilement suspects.
Now, the 16 Days against GBV is an annual event which has been taking place for 20 years now. Even if it was correct that the vices have increased, what would that have meant to the fight against GBV? Are we winning or losing the fight?
At this point let me also lend my weight to those who have said that until we know not just why there is a rise in rape and defilement cases, but more importantly why some men steep so low as to get involved in rape and defilement, we will not know how best to fight the vices. Why, for example, should convicted rapists and defilers go to prison and not to the mental hospital?
The choice of the venue shows Government wants to take the message to the most rural areas of the country. But having launched the campaigned, what is the strategy to replicate the messages to Chididi in Nsanje, Khwethemule in Thyolo, Chambwe in Kasungu and Chozoli in Rumphi?
This year’s launch of the commemoration rightly took place at Makawa Primary School in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mponda in Mangochi, a rural setting. It was also appropriately graced by senior officials across all sectors giving the event the importance it deserves. Some of the officials were the UN Women Resident Representative Clara Anyangwe, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Aisha Adams. But what is it that the campaign will do differently this year from the previous years to make a dent on incidences of rape and defilement?