Traditional and community leaders in Dowa and Ntchisi districts have dissolved 85 marriages in less than two months, thanks to the ‘Raising the Voice of Women in the Fight Against Violence Against Women and Girls’ Project.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Lilongwe (CCJP Lilongwe) is implementing the project in partnership with Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre (CRAPAC) with financial support from UN Women through the Spotlight Initiative Project.
The ultimate goal of the four months project is to contribute towards significant empowerment of women and girls and creation of a violence-free environment.
The project, which expires this June, was implemented in areas under Senior Chief Nthondo and TA Kalumo in Ntchisi and TAs Chiwele, Mkukula and Msakambewa in Dowa.
To achieve the goal, CCJP Lilongwe and CRAPAC mobilized community members, including men to protect women and girls and create a more enabling and safer environment for them.
And in less than two months, these community leaders have dissolved 66 child marriages in the area of Senior Chief Nthondo in Ntchisi District in what is seen as a good start in concerted efforts towards eliminating various incidences of violence targeted at women and girls.
The signal is also good in Senior Group Village Head (SGVH) Tokoma in Traditional Authority (TA) Chiwere in Dowa where 19 child marriages have been ended in just less than a month.
Most of the ended child marriages, largely perpetrated by harmful cultural practices and poverty, involved 16 or 17-year-olds who can hardly support themselves, leading to increased burden on their parents or guardians.
During a two-day media tour organized by the two organizations, community members said the project has raised awareness about anti-violence laws and helped build and develop local structures such as traditional leaders, community based educators, community police forums, male champions, mother groups and community victim support units to improve coordination and effectiveness in addressing gender based violence.
In his remarks, Senior Chief Nthondo added that punitive by-laws formulated in his area in order to support child related laws at national level, are helping a lot in ending child marriages in his area.
“We do not allow child marriages here. In May alone, we ended 56 early marriages. In June, ten. Some of these children have actually gone back to school. Parents who are encouraging child marriages are punished severely. However, the CCJP and CRAPAC project has a short period. We wish it should continue for it has helped us a lot,” he said.
He further said harmful cultural practices including “chinamwali” and ‘bulangete la a mfumu’ that perpetrate child marriages and ‘fisi’, which violates women’s rights, have been abolished in his area.
“Irresponsible and selfish husbands who have all the proceeds of some of the farm produce to themselves, are punished severely. Wives are then awarded all the remaining produce so they can sell it and use the proceeds to support their children with school and other essential needs. Polygamy is allowed only when it is certified that a particular man really requires more women and that he is capable to take care of them. Otherwise, we do not allow polygamy here for it is another root cause of violence, poverty and child marriages,” he said.
SGVH Tokoma also commended the coming of the CCJP Lilongwe and CRAPAC project, saying gender based violence especially against women and girls, was the order of the day in his area.
According to SGVH Tokoma, the most common incidences included child marriages and wife battery, among others.
“After community based educators came to enlighten us, we formulated punitive by-laws that are helping us address some of these issues. For instance, this month we have terminated 19 child marriages. Parents who orchestrate these marriages are required to pay MK50,000. However, the challenge is that some of these children would not go back to school due to lack of support since their parents are poor,” said Tokoma.
One victim of child marriage, a three months pregnant 16-year-old girl and Standard 6 dropout, concurred with SGVH Tokoma on lack of support and called upon CCJP Lilongwe, CRAPAC and other well-wishers to continue with their intervention.
“There is no support coming through either from my home or my husband’s home. We are all poor. I wish I would go back to school after I deliver my baby. I wish I would be supported throughout school and raising of my child,” she said.
Child marriages and other cases of gender based violence, as the media tour found out, have not spared Mkukula Village in TA Mkukula where Sidonia Muyande, a female community based educator, is working with other community structures to address the challenges.
According to Muyande, cases of child abuse, child labour and wife battery – fueled by high levels of illiteracy – are also on the rise.
Community based educators like Muyande have been trained by the CCJP Lilongwe and CRAPAC to educate communities about the evils of sexual and gender based violence and what they can do to avert the vice.
Head of Programs for CCJP Lilongwe, Patrick Chima, could not commitment himself on the request to have the project extended, stressing that this would depend on the benevolence of the donors.
However, Chima expressed hope that the donor partners would be willing to extend the project, saying the data for gender based violence cases remain high, especially in Dowa.
“We acknowledge that we have to sustain the good work we have started. We also know that most of the victims and their families cannot support themselves. As the project implementers, we are also discussing with district social welfare offices and other relevant stakeholders to consider including such victims and families in the social protection measures being implemented at district level in order to have something to support themselves with,” said Chima.
The CCJP Lilongwe and CRAPAC project was designed to empower women and girls so that they can challenge drivers of violence against women and girls both in private and public spheres.
The project components included a comprehensive prevention strategy that addresses structural issues and linkages to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and HIV and AIDS.
It is advancing effective approaches both to prevent GBV—including interventions to address the social norms and behaviors that underpin violence—and to scale up and improve response when violence occurs.
In the intermediate, the project aims to make women and girls more aware about all forms of violence and discrimination against them while in the long term, the intervention goes beyond just the process of women empowerment, but as an outcome where women and girls can participate in self-development processes and claim their rights at all levels.
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