Elsewhere in Mchinji, the outlook regarding harmful cultural practices might not be that bleak.
And that is why particular spotlight is being trained on Traditional Authorities Dambe and Kapondo in the district.
Here, it is shock after shock.
Cases of violence against women and children, rape and other maladies are said to be rampant such that even Senior Group Village Head Kakunga in Dambe area is a worried man.
“Many intervention projects are targeting this area and this tells us there is something we need to correct. We have to be at the centre of the change,” says Kakunga.
He even hints on the need to abolish some of the ethnically-important cults which he thinks are to blame for the violence taking place in the area.
Perhaps, as a local leader of some advanced years, some expected him to be at the forefront preserving cultural practices.
But the Senior Group Village Head warns that as long as he lives, he will not watch his people continue degenerating into an uninformed society.
And to the Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (Creccom), which is implementing a Gender Equity and Women Empowerment (Gewe) project in T/A Dambe, Kakunga’s message is that of reassurance.
“I want to urge you to be always forthcoming whenever we are not getting things right. We cannot be proud traditional leaders if we preside over an illiterate society,” said Kakunga recently when Creccom handed over goats to Tithandizane Community- Based Organisation (CBO).
The goats, valued at K2.3 million, were distributed to members of two CBOs including Tithandizane to sustain the activities of the organisation in their work to redeem their society from the social evils that best it.
Tithandizane CBO Coordinator Jimmy Chimwala waxed lyrical about the impact of the organisation, albeit admitting that more needs to be done to widen its reach.
Parading two boys who had returned to school after being approached by the CBO through the Gewe project, Chimwala said every child within the organisation’s reach will have to be in school –by any means necessary.
But what really necessitated the birth of Tithandizane CBO?
“HIV and Aids was the major inspiration. We started in 2005 as a support group, with just four people – two men and two women – and our numbers increased such that when we were registering as a CBO in 2007, we were more than 200,” said Chimwala.
He added that the CBO has been and continues taking HIV and Aids, anti-abuse and empowerment messages to communities, apart from operating a nursery school.
Another remarkable feature of the CBO is that it is women who are taking a leading role in advocating for the abolishment of harmful cultural practices which are also at the centre of spreading the HIV pandemic.
The women – who reiterated their intervention acts through a role play during the Creccom visit – tear apart the kusasa fumbi (sexual cleansing) ritual and demand that their traditional leaders should ban it.
And Kakunga condemned child marriages, saying he always takes appropriate action against every parent who allows their child to abandon school in favour of marriage.
“It is the duty of parents to follow up on their children who go to school so that they confirm that the children indeed went to school. The progress being made must also be monitored. Everyone must adhere to the laws that we have in our area so that we move forward.
“Whoever contravenes our agreements that children must go to school and not to [cult camps] has to be dealt with. They will have to leave my village,” said Kakunga.
But for the CBOs to keep up the fight of cleaning up its society, they have to be self-sustaining.
Creccom Programme Manager responsible for training, Linice Sanga, said Gewe, a Ministry of Gender programme, which is being implemented with funding from the European Union (EU) through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), emphasises on the self-sustainability of communities, hence the goats.
In 2014, UNFPA awarded 5 organisations for showcasing best and innovative practices in the implementation of the Gewe programme and Mchinji is one of the 5 districts that received the award.
Sanga said profits from the goat-raising initiative will be used to continue implementing the CBOs’ routine tasks as well as curbing gender-based violence in their communities.
On her part, Mchinji District Agricultural Development Office (Dado) Crop Protection Officer, Pauline Chioko, cautioned members of Tithandizane CBO against initiating divisions among themselves following the donation.
“The goats do not belong to any individual. They are for all members of the CBO as they should help in its different activities. As such, it is important that you should remain united,” said Chioko.
She also hailed the women in the CBOs who are going into communities, teaching people to avoid harmful cultural practices and encouraging children to go to school.
“It is refreshing to note that things are changing. Some harmful cultural practices have ended,” said Chioko.
And Creccom itself is optimistic that after the project expires this year, the bleak outlook regarding harmful cultural practices, violence against women and children and many more malaises in its 13 Gewe districts will be wiped out.
“The intervention that has been initiated in T/A Dambe and Kapondo by Gewe programme can and should be replicated in other T/As and districts in Malawi. The interventions can easily be sustained at District Council level,” reads a note from the organisation.
It adds that at the end of the project, institutional capacity of the national gender machinery will be strengthened while gender empowerment will be improved through economic, social and legal empowerment, among others.
Creccom further hopes that socio-cultural practices impacting on the link between gender, HIV and Aids and GBV will be better utilised for behaviour change and gender mainstreamed in agriculture, transportation, education and health sectors.
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