She was happily married until four years ago. The husband unilaterally terminated the marriage. She felt used and dumped. She was left with six children. She had to find a way out, feed them and dress them.
To make matters worse, the husband left when she was two-month pregnant: An extra mouth to feed.
That is what 41-year old Enala Sikauti of ChapakamaVillage in Traditional Authority Kapondo in Mchinji faced.
She narrates what happened four years ago:
“I am told my husband is now in jail in Zambia, but I have gone through more than life itself. I have struggled with these children and now my 15-year-old has started being rude and is no longer afraid of men. I have asked some ladies in the communities to counsel her; otherwise, she will bring me a child and we cannot handle that at the moment.”
In the early stages after her husband had crossed borders to Zambia, she survived on piece works.
Being dumped, or having a husband ‘disappear’, may not be very new to Malawian women, who are in most cases regarded as house-keepers. In most cases the husbands leave the women with a number of children, making life difficult for the women.
What matters is what the women do after finding themselves in this predicament.
Today, Sikauti is a living example of people who have shown that they never give up even when they are in very difficult situations. She has utilised to the maximum the opportunity she was given.
UNFPA, through the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (Gewe) Project, being implemented with funding from European Union (EU), identified her as beneficiary to the pass-on programme of goats using structures which are in the villages.
They were trained on best practices in goat-keeping and in December, 2013, together with other 25 women, she was given four goats.
The programme was designed in a way that once the goat bears a kid, they must be passed on to other beneficiaries so that other community can also benefit.
Today the single mother of seven has managed to return three goats out of the four. She speaks highly of the project.
“When my husband left, I cried almost every night. I wondered how I would live by the next day and feed my children. It was a pathetic situation. But now I am a happy person. I have five goats in my stall, I have managed to buy chickens, and sell, Zitumbuwa and Mandazi (flitters). On top of it all, I have a grocery shop,” she says.
According to her, she is able look after her children well. They are all in school. Her only challenge is the 15-year old girl who looks down upon her.
One of the local structures is called the Mother Group whose chairperson is Irene Chalemetsa. She too took four goats, and has a remainder of two goats to pass-on. She is also a victim of gender-based violence.
“There are several mother groups within this district and, in our case, the mother group is called Chapakama. Mostly, we are women who are survivors of gender based violence. We are people living with HIV and Aids and before Gewe our economic status was undesirable,” she says.
Chalemetsa further says the lives of all the women who benefited from the pass-on programme have changed as all the 25 members have goats in their kraals.
“Today people come to us for advice because of what the Gewe project has done to us. I struggled too, life was unbearable, having children but not knowing what to do with them, where the next meal would come from. So, for us to be chosen in order to benefit from the pass-on project was a miracle in itself,” Chalemetsa says.
Implementing partner for Gewe project in Mchinji, Micheal Tcheula, said there are over 10 working groups in T/A Kapondo who are spearheading Gewe’s objectives in many ways.
“The objective is to accelerate efforts to advance gender equality and equity as a human right for the reduction of HIV and Aids and poverty in line with the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy. The objective is in line with the 7th programme of UNFPA in Malawi which is being implemented,” Tcheula says.
According to Tcheula, there are girl-groups and women-groups who are working towards achieving this goal. He also said the women-group members together with the teen groups would help Sikauti’s daughter.
“These women hold meetings twice a month where they discuss several issues including how to handle peer pressure and other issues which at the end of the day should help reduce the spread of HIV and Aids.
“Through Gewe, communities have formed all kinds of groupings which are helping people boost their livelihoods,” he says.
The Malawi government has also been striving to empower women economically. A 2014 report on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for Malawi, compiled by the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, underscores the fact that women are crucial to Malawi’s development.
“Women who comprise about 52 percent of the Malawian population are, for all practical purposes, instrumental to achievement of Malawi’s development agenda. Empowering women, therefore, entails equipping the larger section of the population which shall result in an increase in national output. Currently, Malawi remains challenged in the spheres of gender inequality which threatens the county’s development ambitions,” reads part of the report.
According to the report, Malawi government realises that there is high correlation between poverty, social vulnerability and gender inequality.
The report also highlights some of the strategies government has put in place in trying to equate opportunities for both sexes by initiatives that are aimed at reducing gender disparities. Some of them include construction of girls’ hostels in secondary schools to make the schools girl friendly so as to increase attendance rate for girls and building capacity of women in business and financial skills.
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