By Wezzie Gausi:
There is a disease that has been troubling women and girls for many years in Malawi.
This is a problem that most girls and women are often times shy and afraid to ask help for.
The disease goes by the name Gender-Based Violence (GBV). There is a lot to tell about the physical and emotional abuse that women are subjected to.
In Dowa District, three women have their stories to tell: A 9-year old girl, a 17- year old girl and a 47-year-old woman– all of whom have been abused and attacked by people they know and loved.
An abused 9-year-old girl
Mary Chagomelana lives in Nyama Village in the area of Traditional Authority Mponela in Dowa. She says her daughter suffered at the hands of a man that came to the village to seek for a place to stay.
The man, widely known as Lonje (in full Lonjezo), has been moulding bricks for people in the village. He originally came from Ntcheu.
Chagomelana’s house is metres away from where Lonje used to do his work.
On that fateful day, her daughter, Lucy, was in the kitchen with her friends cooking. At that time, her mother had left to her grandmother’s village for a funeral. There were only children around the house.
While in the kitchen, the girl heard children screaming and running outside the house. She went to see what was happening and she saw Lonje chasing her sister.
She asked him why he was doing that. Lonje pounced on her and beat her up mercilessly.
“He beat me until I was unconscious. I woke up with pain all over my body and with a swollen face,” Lucy says.
Chagomelana says when she returned home, two days after the incident, she found her daughter really sick.
“I went straight to Police to report the matter and then took my daughter to the hospital. She was treated but since then she has failed to use her right hand where she was injured most,” Chagomelana says.
She says she is saddened to hear that the village headman, Nyama, had gone to police and closed the matter.
After a series of follow-ups and with intervention of the Nice Trust, the culprit was told to pay K75, 000. He only paid K30,000.
“After paying the money the culprit moves around the village freely, and most of the times use obscene language at my family. Being a widow, I live in fear thinking he will attack us again,” she says.
Raped by a father figure
Esther Black, then 17 years old, also within Nyama village was sleeping in her room. She heard someone entering. She thought it was her aunt but it was not. It was her uncle.
She was then staying at her uncle’s, her father’s brother. She was brought to his house to further her education since her parents were unable to support her fully. She was then in Standard 8 when the incident happened.
In the room, the man forced himself on her. After the deed, she threatened to chase her out of the house if she ever revealed what had happened.
And it became routine. The girl was helpless and she could not speak out.
“Honestly I did not know what to do or who to tell. I was filled with shame on how the society would view me being raped by my uncle, someone I trusted,” she says.
Her mother, Christina, says she noticed a change in her daughter. They realised later that she was pregnant.
“This pregnancy was her father’s. I was very shuttered and disturbed. We had to take the matter to the police and after sometime we were told the matter was closed by our village headman.
“Not only that but the chiefs had met and told the culprit to pay K100, 000 which he did and the chiefs shared the money among themselves,” Christina says.
After the incident the uncle ran away from the village and now stays in Lilongwe, according to reports.
“My daughter is now a teen mother with no help at all. I am forced to do piece work to take care of her and the grandchild. This is something that has been haunting us for a year now and someone is freely living his life,” says Christina.
One eye gone
Born in Chiundila village in the area of Traditional Authority Msakambewa, Agness Makiyi was abused physically, emotionally and financially.
She got married to her husband for 15 years and those were the worst years of her life, she says, as the husband abuses her at every opportunity.
She stayed on in the marriage for the sake of the three children she had with the man. But she regrets she stayed long with such an abusive man.
“The man was so aggressive. What he knew was to give me children but he was failing to take care of us. One day we had a misunderstanding after I had taken part of our tobacco to sell so that I buy food for one of the kids who was malnourished.
“It ended up to be the bad day of my life as the husband beat me up without mercy. He hit me hard on my left eye,” Makiyi says.
The injury was so bad that it ended in having the eye being removed.
“After the eye was removed my life has never been the same again. My husband left me for another woman and he now stays in Lilongwe. I take care of the children alone, which is very challenging.
“The matter was taken to court and my husband was ordered to be paying me, but not a single day has he ever paid me. I am now a disabled person because of what seemed like love when it was abuse,” Makiyi says.
Grace Hara, Communications Officer for National Initiatives for Civic Education (Nice) Trust, says they are implementing a project raising awareness to all on Sexual and Gender- Based Violence (SGBV) and harmful cultural practices.
She says through this project a number of activities have been undertaken to help women and girls speak out and report GBV.
“Our interventions have enlightened people on where and how to place their complaints without being intimidated. Survivors are able to report to police Victim Support Units (VSU), courts, public VSUs, organisations dealing in violence against women and girls and many others.
“Survivors are also given a platform where they share experiences and chart out ways how to avoid and prevent the same from repeating itself,” Hara says.
Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) Executive Secretary Habiba Osman says the incidents in Dowa are inhuman, especially so as traditional leaders are also complicit.
“We are tired of watching women and girls being abused and worse still the people that are supposed to protect these groups are denying them access to justice.
“As a commission we will see to it that we investigate the issues until the perpetrators are taken to book,” Osman says.
She further says entities like courts, police and the legislature need to speak one language in enacting and enforcing laws that deal with this vice.
“These structures must work hand in glove to have a coordinated appeal. There’s need for stiffer punishments by courts,” she says.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Gender Lucy Bandazi says the behavior of chiefs in Dowa in aiding and abetting crime cannot be condoned at all.
“Chiefs should be the first to protect women and promote their rights. Chiefs have been oriented so many times on gender related laws and other statutes such as the Penal Code.
“Collecting money from perpetrators and closing cases is a crime. It is a corrupt practice which should be reported immediately. The ministry is appealing to all officers charged with the responsibilities of protecting all citizens particularly women to act swiftly. The corrupt chiefs should be apprehended and bring them to book,” Bandazi says.
Malawi has in place the National Plan for Action for Combatting Gender-Based Violence (NPA). It follows the national gender based response initiatives that ran from 2002 to 2007 and reviewed for 2008 to 2013. These are essential efforts in providing a comprehensive, multi-sectoral and sustained blueprint for ending violence against men, women and children in Malawi.