In each of the 11 times that she fell pregnant, the husband would disappear without notice.
She could only hear rumours about his whereabouts from family and friends but he provided no support to her and the children.
“He was living with other women but there was nothing I could do about it. My mother and relatives said such is married life,” says Etinala Ndawala of Thawalala village, TA Malemia in Nsanje.
Deserted, she bore the pain of two miscarriages and two deaths of her babies alone.
The first baby died of anaemia at one year old and the second one died at six months from what she thinks was malaria.
“I was going through a lot of emotional pain,” she says.
Despite what was happening to her, she hanged on to the marriage since she says it was accepted in her area for a woman to go through that.
But now, she will not watch other women in the area suffer the way she did, thanks to the 40-member grouping which Women’s Legal Resource Centre (Worlec) established in the area.
A survey which the organisation did in Nsanje and Neno districts in 2012 established that the participation of women in political and decision-making processes remains low despite the fact that they are in majority.
The survey findings indicate that factors like poverty weaken women’s social status and therefore are not viewed as a group that can make meaningful contribution to decision making.
It also points out that gender based violence, among others, saps women’s energy and undermines the confidence needed for their active participation in public life.
In response, Worlec introduced the group to fight such imbalances under the project titled ‘Promoting women’s citizenship action and participation in political and decision making processes’ with funding from Dan Church Aid.
The groups were introduced in TAs Tengani and Malemia.
While men are allowed to be members, women dominate the groups.
Ndawala is now the chairperson of Thawalala Worlec group whose functions include reaching out to abusive men for them to understand the effects of GBV and women oppression.
“I’m glad that I have managed to change lives of many with my story. Everything happens for a reason and I’m glad that people are beginning to understand gender issues,” she says, adding that through her activism, her husband has now changed and is member of the group.
At the moment, Ndawala is the custodian of any income the family gets after selling their farm produce or from piece work.
Ndawala however says her activism work has not been easy since some people still regard fighting for women’s rights is a foreign idea.
Groups such as the one that Ndawala is leading have liberated other women such Blandina George, 34, of Dzomodya Village, TA Mlauli in Neno.
Dzomoya also suffered emotional violence in her marriage because her husband could not allow her to do any type of business or associate with friends and family.
“I had no confidence in myself since at times he could insult me giving me the impression that I was a useless person. I couldn’t answer back. Before marriage, elders told me that a wife isn’t supposed to answer back but rather apologise since a man is the head of the family,” she recalls.
George’s life changed too when she joined the Worlec group without her husband’s knowledge.
She later borrowed money and began doing a fish selling business and joined a village bank grouping.
“I used the tactics I was told at the women’s group to reach out to my husband. He accepted my involvement in this group. He now supports me with ideas on how I can improve the business,” George says.
Projects Officer for Worlec (Nsanje Office) Lazarous Nyantapanya says he is hopeful that there will be sustainability of the activities after the project phases out.
“Even though initially people expected us to give them hand-outs, there is a noticeable change of perception. The knowledge we have imparted on them through capacity building trainings will remain with them,” he said.
In May this, government pledged to fully implement the Gender Equality Act which was adopted in 2013 and amend all laws that discriminate women.
Government made the pledge at the 22nd session of United Nations General Assembly’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report, one of the 145 recommendations which Malawi accepted include its commitment to continue efforts aimed at raising awareness of the law on gender equality.
The report also said Government will continue with its efforts to curb discriminatory and harmful practices and efforts to combat violence against women such as domestic violence.
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