By Joseph Kayira
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and government say the battle against Gender Based Violence (GBV) is on track with more people joining the conversation openly discussing the evils of any form of violence both at family and national level, but concede challenges prevail.
Prominent gender activist and chairperson of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Gender Protocol Alliance, Emma Kaliya says a true reflection on activism shows that Malawi has made positive strides by utilizing local and global initiatives that have impacted on the social spectrum of the country.
“When we started talking about gender-based violence back in the 2000s we were a very small group of Non-Governmental Organisations. Today, that small group has grown into a big and formidable group that is tirelessly fighting gender-based violence and there has been tremendous gains that we can talk about,” Kaliya says.
She said one of the achievements is the formulation of the National Plan of Action (NPA) to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Malawi (2014–2020), a comprehensive, multi-sectoral and sustained blueprint for ending violence against men, women and children. The others include Domestic Violence Act, the Gender Equality Act, the Marriage Law and Deceased Estate Act.
The five priority areas of the NPA are prevention of GBV by addressing the root causes and promoting transformation of harmful social norms, promotion of an early referral system that identifies violence and thus reduces its impact and continuation, creation of an effective response mechanism supporting the survivors of GBV, coordination, implementation and sustainable financing of the NPA and research, data collection, monitoring and evaluation.
“We have been part of the process of coming up with these Acts which are quite instrumental when it comes to dealing with issues bordering on gender-based violence. We want enforcement of these laws at all levels. We are pleased that the justice system is finally rolling the wheels of justice. In the past cases of gender-based violence could take long and the disparities in penalties were quite worrisome.
“If someone has been convicted of rape or defilement the sentencing should be the same. If its 14 years let it be 14 years. In the past we could see someone getting seven years another 10 for a similar offence. That should not be happening. We want laws that are punitive enough for perpetrators of gender-based violence. So far, the courts have been supportive,” Kaliya said.
Kaliya says today the CSOs and government have initiated bigger conversations on rights with a sole purpose to eliminate violence against women in Malawi and join hands with other players across the region to enforce laws and instruments that aim to protect women and girls from any forms of violence.
Poor systems, delayed justice
Barbara Banda, executive director of NGO Gender Coordinating Network (NGOGCN) says there have been a lot of sensitization on gender-based violence which has resulted into empowerment for women and girls.
“Women and girls are able to speak out on gender-based violence. However, there is need to support the justice and legal system to speed up cases. While CSOs have done a good job on sensitization and helping women to report gender-based violence to relevant authorities, it is worrisome that the legal and justice systems tend to frustrate this.
“The Legal Aid, which is there to help women and girls who cannot hire a lawyer, is poorly funded and understaffed. This delays cases. Again, victims of gender-based violence want the law to be more punitive. The perpetrators should feel the law when they break the law. So, a system that is underfunded and delays the process of delivering justice for those that have had their rights violated, denies women and girls justice,” she says.
Banda says there is need for social awareness for victims of rape and defilement which are some of the worst forms of violence. She gives an example of girls and women who were allegedly raped and defiled in Msundwe in Lilongwe last month by some police officers, who did not report their case until 72 hours had elapsed.
“Women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence should not wait for a third party to come on board. The case of alleged rape and defilement in Msundwe should have been reported immediately to deal with after effects such as pregnancies and HIV and AIDS or Sexually Transmitted Infections. It should be the case with any other form of violence against girls and women,” she says.
She points out that poverty levels and lack of understanding on how the law operates in regard to violence against women and girls force multitudes to suffer in silence. Banda says men should also be empowered with knowledge to conduct themselves “honourably and respect women and girls”.
“We have heard about sex for grades in academic circles, about men who want to sleep with women and girls in order to qualify for employment. In this campaign we are saying men too should be part of the picture. They should be part of the solution to gender-based violence,” she says.
‘We are putting GBV into spotlight’
Malawi’s minister of gender Mary Navicha says the battle against GBV goes beyond 16 Days of Activism. She says all Malawians must join hands and condemn all forms of violence against women all the time. Navicha explained that putting GBV on the spotlight and bringing perpetrators in the open to face the law would deter others from committing similar offences.
“Let us put GBV into the spotlight and end all forms of violence against women and girls. We have put in place several interventions including what we call the Spotlight Initiative which focuses on eliminating violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices among others,” Navicha says.
According to information from government “In addition to enabling a holistic approach to end violence against women and girls, the initiative will promote Agenda 2030’s guiding principle of “leaving no one behind” and build on the momentum of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) efforts especially Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
Malawi and eight countries in Africa were selected to receive part of the global grant of €500 million from the EU to implement the Spotlight Initiative. Navicha says the initiative will help women and girls to speak out on issues of gender-based violence and boost efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls.
“We are geared to help women who suffer all forms of violence. As government we are working in partnership with CSOs to eliminate violence against women and girls through different initiatives including the National Plan of Action. All we are trying to do is to make sure that no woman or girl is left behind or should continue to suffer in silence. We are taking a new direction that empowers women to talk about their rights and take issues of violence head on,” she says.
Navicha says another form of violence that Malawian girls and women face is trafficking. She says women and girls are trafficked to other countries such as South Africa on the pretext of getting jobs but end up being abused.
Emily Mkamanga, an activist says there is more to be done if violence against women is to be eliminated. She says education is key in the resolve to end GBV.
“Women and girls in Malawi and around the world continue to face different forms of violence if a culture of silence continues. The problem is that women suffer in silence because culture encourages them to do so,” she says.
Mkamanga says women continue to cling to abusive partners “because culturally it is generally acceptable for husbands to get physical with their wives. We are saying this is wrong. Walk away from abusive partners because they don’t deserve you.”
According to UN Women: “the vast majority of perpetrators of violence against women and girls face no consequences; and only a minority of cases are ever reported to the police, an even smaller percentage result in charges, and in only a fraction of those cases is there a conviction”.
Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has introduced a Regional Strategy and Framework of Action (2018-2030) for addressing Gender Based Violence to facilitate the implementation and monitoring of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. 13 countries out of 15 now have domestic violence and sexual assault legislation. According to State of Women in SADC 2019 Report, 15 countries have legislation on sexual harassment and all countries have laws on human trafficking.
*Kayira is a Malawian journalist. This article is part of Gender Links 16 Days of Activism