‘Let everyone be involved to end GBV’

By Joseph Kayira

The United Nations (UN) estimates that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, which may not even include emotional, financial and verbal abuse. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres describes violence against women and girls as, “A menace which takes many forms, ranging from domestic violence to trafficking, from sexual violence in conflict to child marriage, genital mutilation and femicide, and does not only harm the individual, but also has far-reaching consequences for families and the society.” In this interview, Mercy Chakoma, Balaka Civil Society Organisations Network vice chairperson says despite the odds, the battle against gender-based violence can be won. The excerpts:

Chakoma: There is need to engage men as allies to end gender-based violence (Photo Credit: MML)

Instances of gender-based violence are still common at the workplace, schools, colleges and in homes in Malawi. Why are we still haunted by gender-based violence?

Persistent power imbalances. Some men are aggressive, controlling, and dominant, while women are docile, meek and submissive. These norms promote attitudes that lead to high rates of abusive relationships. Occurrences of pandemics and natural disasters also exacerbate gender-based violence. Pandemics and natural disasters often times break the social protection leaving women more vulnerable and susceptible to gender-based violence.

What should government and its stakeholders do to end gender-based violence?

Government and its stakeholders should integrate gender-transformative approaches into each of its programmes, regardless of those programmes’ main focus.  It should also scale up efforts of addressing unequal gender power relations in a multi-sectoral approach. Government should also initiate innovative programmes focusing on economic empowerment of women. These should be tangible programmes that would bear positive change.

How can we deal with the culture of silence where women and girls, who are largely victims of gender-based violence, are reluctant to talk about the violence they face in workplaces, schools or in homes?

Engaging men as allies to end GBV and promote survivor-centred approaches [stop victim blaming and shaming]. There is need to strengthen women’s collective voice to speak up. It is also important to promote the use of anonymous approaches for reporting GBV.

How can Malawi decisively deal with gender-based violence?

Government should work towards changing attitudes or questioning gender roles and stereotypes that make gender-based violence acceptable in society. This should be done by providing accessible information about what gender-based violence is, about its different forms, possible remedies and existing support.

Can we entirely blame patriarchal values as the reason why gender-based violence is deeply entrenched in the Malawian society?

While patriarchal values can contribute to the deeply-rooted gender based violence in Malawi, it would be unfair to solely blame patriarchal values. There are multiple factors that contribute to the deep rooted GBV including lack of enforcement of laws, poverty and cultural norms.

What could be your message to girls who fall prey to lecturers who ask for sexual favours to give these girls better grades in what has commonly become to be known as sex for grades?

There is no shortcut to success. If you engage yourself in sex for grades – firstly, you may find it so challenging and difficult to execute assignments in your future career. In addition, that is putting your life at risk of being infected or impregnated before attaining your goals hence destroying your future.

What could be better ways for girls to report abusive lecturers or teachers to authorities?

By establishing a functional grievance redress mechanism, for example, through anonymous approaches. Some of them could be complaint boxes and calls.

What should be the role of traditional leaders and religious leaders to end gender-based violence?

They should advocate against cultural norms and practices that perpetuate gender-based violence.

Why is gender-based violence still an issue today? Why are we, as a country, struggling to deal with this vice?

It is because of deep-rooted societal norms. These norms reinforce power imbalances. There are also poverty and economic factors. Economic-dependence on men sometimes forces women to stay in abusive relationships. Some religious beliefs still hinder participation of women in several developmental agendas.

What should be the way forward for Malawi to end gender-based violence?

Government should use multifaceted approaches to address gender-based violence like implementing and enforcing laws to protect survivors.

What’s your final message on gender-based violence?

Let everyone be involved to end gender-based violence.