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Leaving no one behind in development dream

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By Watipaso Mzungu

The Malawi 2063 development agenda was developed out of extensive consultations with a broad range of stakeholders including the government, civil society organisations and development partners.

However, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust acting Executive Director, Gray Kalindekafe, fears this could be another white elephant if there are no deliberate measures to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) from all sectors of life.

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Kalindekafe is concerned that, despite combined efforts by the government and its development partners to eliminate violence, the monster continues to stand in the way of women empowerment.

“Malawi 2063 cannot be realised if women and girls, who form over 50 percent of our population, are trapped in SGBV bondage,” he challenges.

Malawi ranks 173 out of 188 on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index (GII) and has the eighth highest child marriage rate in the world and, as the Borgen Project study established, high cases of child marriage have impacted many young girls and their futures.

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The report cites widespread poverty as one of the major contributors to child marriages in Malawi. And in a country where over half of the population lives below the poverty line, girls are the most vulnerable, as parents and guardians opt to marry them off in hopes of economic advancement.

The Borgen Project report further found that girls were often forced into relationships wrought with sexual and domestic abuse and GBV.

“Some girls said their families used manipulative tactics to coerce them into forced marriage, threatening and verbally abusing them or throwing them out on the street if they refused to comply,” the report reads.

First Lady Monica Chakwera agrees with these findings and has since called for more support towards girls’ education to break the cycle of poverty in the country.

Chakwera, who was speaking during a fundraising gala organised by Girl Education Trust in Lilongwe last Friday, observed that the girls face unimaginable challenges that need urgent action.

“Even though girls’ education is on the global agenda, the inequalities in access, achievement, attainment and accomplishment remain overwhelming,” she said.

The First Lady said girls are still leaving school “too soon before acquiring the skills and knowledge that could positively impact their lives as well as the communities where they live”.

She further observed that education has often been more available for boys than girls.

However, even where education services have been equally provided to both sexes, several barriers have prevented girls from participating as effectively as boys, which lead to poor learning achievements, repetitions and eventually dropping out.

“Research shows that girls from the poorest rural households are the least likely to complete primary schooling and transition to secondary. Just 15 out of 26 girls from these households complete secondary school,” Chakwera said.

Malawi has made commitments to ensure a complete ban on child marriages.

For instance, the government has pledged to the UN Sustainable Goal to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

Through this goal, the nation plans to eradicate child marriage cases in Malawi by 2030. The government also created the National Plan of Action to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Malawi.

However, a recent assessment by Nice Trust in Dowa and Ntchisi revealed that Malawi still has a long way to go to eliminate disparities that exist between men and women.

In the two districts, Nice Trust has been implementing a UN Women-sponsored project aimed at eliminating all forms of SGBV and harmful practices towards women and children.

The project aims to give women and girls more opportunities by integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment into all development efforts.

Kalindekafe says, in the course of the implementation of the initiative, they discovered that the two districts have entrenched traditional and cultural norms that are fuelling violence against women and girls.

He says their assessment indicated that gatekeepers, who include traditional leaders, teachers and parents, are among the perpetrators of SGBV.

The assessment also found that Local Government structures such as social welfare offices and the police often fail to reach out to more distant areas to address and follow up on cases due to limited availability of transport money, and district-level stakeholders also fail to conduct frequent and effective monitoring visits and follow-up on issues in hard-to-reach areas.

Another barrier to eliminating SGBV is the confusion between the country’s Constitution and other protocols such as the Penal Code over marriage age and age for consensual sex.

Kalindekafe cautions that, unless legal instruments are aligned to ensure that they are complementing each other, especially in terms of recognition of an adult, Malawi will continue wandering in the wilderness.

“It is therefore befitting that the mindset change being propagated in the Malawi 2063 Agenda be also applied to change attitudes, beliefs, customs, cultural practices that promote patriarchy and fuel SGBV. The Malawi 2063 Agenda calls for a positive mindset among the citizenry and its leadership,” he said.

In the implementation of Mw2063, Nice Trust and the Ministry of Civic Education have been tasked to implement Enabler 1, which is mindset change, whose objective is to have “a united, patriotic and proud people that believe in their own abilities and are active participants in building the nation towards its development goals”.

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