The worst obstacle patriarchy exert on women is to deny them access to knowledge. Through radio listening clubs, Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (CAWVOC) is, with stead, removing the hurdle in Chiradzulu District. What have been the effects? Ephraim Nyondofinds out.
They are singing and dancing beside a wide mango tree outside the house of their Village Head Lupanga in the area of T/A Likoswe, Nguludi, Chiradzulu District. After the jive, they sit on a mat and share testimonies of success, all visibly in high spirits.
â€œI have two houses, now. I am selling mandasi. I have pigs, and I have chickens. My children can wear nice clothes, sleep on good beds and eat delicious meals,â€ declares one woman who speaks with hands jailed to the chest.
Her name is Ellen Thauzeni, 32.
â€œI cannot conclude that I am actually where I want my life to be. I am still on a journey. But I am happy my life is not as hopeless as it was just four years ago,â€ she adds.
In 2007, Thauzeni, sick of her abusive and uncaring husband, sought divorce as a source of her inner comfort. Retired with her three children to a shack near her familyâ€™s home, Thauzeni became a pariah as word of her decision spread around the community.
Tradition expected her to endure the pains and suffer in silence. She was a typical house wife without basic education and business. Her every need was met by the uncaring husbandâ€™s pity.
â€œWith the divorce, how will she fend for herself and the three children?â€ That was the question everybody, directly or indirectly, asked then.
â€œI just prayed to God. I knew He would open the way for me and I will stand again,â€ she says in her soft and confident voice.
At first, Thauzeni thought she was the odd one out. But as days passed, she found out that a number of women in her community were suffering in silence, but just could not afford her bravery. In fact, Chiradzulu is a district with a painful history of gender based-violence. Remember cases of women having their breasts chopped off?
â€œWe were always, in our casual meetings, talking about our need to do something by ourselves to be self-reliant, and also to complement husbands.Â But we were blank, almost vessels without knowledge,â€ she laments.
What Thauzeni advances is an honest prime hurdle most women, especially those in the villages, face in Malawi. Women are industrious, quite innovative and hard-working beings yet often their input mocks the output. The reason is simple: Their wisdom is confined due to lack of access to wider knowledge.
Fortunately, a cloud of luck descended on Thauzeni and fellow women in Chiradzulu district. In 2008, Centre for Alternatives Victimised Women and Children (CAWVOC), rolled out a three year project in the district aimed at empowering the social and economic status of women.
CAVWOC has since entered into another three-year-old phase.
Explains Maxwell Kaliati, CAWVOCâ€˜s projects officer: â€œIn the first place, we created radio listening clubs across the district. These are clubs of 10 women. They listen to different development programmes on different radio stations and after that share the knowledge.â€ Thauzeni became a member of Chiyambi Radio Listening Club in 2008.
â€œWe circulate the radio among members so that they listen to a particular radio programme for instance Kanthu ndi Khama, Mayi ndi Mayi nzake, etc. After that, we meet every Monday afternoon to listen to a particular programme together and again, share what we have been listening to before,â€ says Elita Piringu, another member of Chiyambi club.
But whatâ€™s in these programmes?
â€œThese are development radio programmes which we want our women to listen to so that they become knowledgeable of what other women are doing about themselves.
â€œWe do not just expect them to appreciate the alternatives they are listening to, but most importantly, to adopt those they find possible within their settings.
â€œAfter they single out a particular initiative they find doable, we provide them with training, a little capital and we also tour them to success story areas,â€ says Kaliati. And that is exactly what Thauzeni and fellow Chiyambi members have been doing.
â€œThrough the radio, we learnt of a number of initiatives. We learnt of how fellow women are making money out of growing mushrooms. We learnt of the wonders of village savings loans. We learnt of pig and chicken farming. And we learnt of adult literacy schools,â€ says Thauzeni.
Fourteen women from two adjacent clubs, Chiyambi inclusive, were illiterate. But after listening to the importance of literacy among adults, and also having a retired primary school teacher within Chiyambi, an adult literacy school was set up.
â€œI raised the issue with education officials at the district who provided us with books, boards, chalk and some teaching and learning materials.Â
â€œI can testify here that there is hardly a woman from Chiyambi Radio Listening Club who is illiterate. They can all read the Bible, development tracts and write good transactions of their small businesses,â€ says Elita Piringu, a former primary school teacher.
Members of Chiyambi adopted a number of initiatives. Some went into pig farming, others into mushroom, and others into grocery shops, to list but a few. All of them have gone through training to perfect their trades.
Interestingly, to make sure they do not run out of money and also to get help in moments of shock, these women, after having listened and read in the newspaper about the wonders of village savings, asked for training in how to effectively manage a village savings loan facility. CAWVOC granted it.
â€œVSL is the heart of our success here. We are growing and diversifying our businesses because we can easily borrow from it. When the year ends, we get share dividends which are a big boost to our small businesses,â€ says Thauzeni. And it is not just Thauzeni.
As they sing and dance beside that mango tree, their songs are deeper, rife with confessions of success.
They sing about the joy of going to maize mills and markets without asking for money from their husbands. They sing about the sweetness of going to â€˜townâ€™ to buy a new shirt for their husbands, for themselves and their children using their money. They sing about balanced diets in their homes. And they sing about the joys of progress.
â€œWe can be counted now; we can be seen now; thanks CAWVOC for letting us know, for revealing our latent energies. Please give us more radios and more good programmes,â€ confesses Village Head Lupanga, who is also a woman.
After speaking, she joined the dancers, and they danced and danced, stirred the ground to dust as teens.