By Fletcher Simwaka, contributor:
One Sunday afternoon of this year’s September, Alick Gondwe was, on his way from church, disturbed by noise of a physical fight inside a roadside house.
The man assaulting his wife was Benjamin Mvalo, a well-known football player many youth in Chanozga-Ng’oma Village, Traditional Authority Mtwalo in Mzimba District, look up to.
Gondwe, a male champion under ActionAid Malawi’s “Audacity to Disrupt Gender-based Violence against Women and Girls” Project in the area, engaged the couple in a long session, counselling and sensitising them to the dangers and human rights implications of gender-based violence (GBV).
Since then, Mvalo is a changed man and has been taking a leading role in engaging fellow men to stop sexual and GBV (SGBV) against women and girls in the area.
“I used to abuse alcohol, which influenced me into beating up my wife. Moreover, here in Mzimba, beating up a wife is not regarded as GBV. So I regarded it as a normal way of teaching my wife some good manners in line with our culture.
“However, Alick Gondwe opened my eyes and I am now a dedicated champion of the campaign against GBV because I know there are a lot of men who still beat up their wives like I used to,” Mvalo, 32, says.
According to the latest Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 34 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 reported experiencing physical violence, 14 percent sexual violence, and 23 percent emotional violence.
These “blood-curdling” statistics compel Gondwe to reason that introducing the male championship in the fight against SGBV in the area is proving effective in shifting attitudes, behaviour and norms among the male folk.
He says, as male champions, they are reaching out to fellow men with campaigns against SGBV in areas women cannot reach.
Gondwe says he and fellow male champions in the area have been employing the ‘barbershop toolkit’ innovation in platforms such as bawo, drinking joints and football matches to engage men on the anti-SGBV crusade.
“We want men to be discussing issues around GBV with deeper self-reflection. Most men now realise that indulging in GBV is not part of masculinity but a criminal conduct. The chiefs are also in full support of the campaign” he states.
Gondwe adds that the male champions are also working with other structures such as women forums, community policing and community victim support units in following up on SGBV cases in the area.
He says male champions are engaging chiefs on how to handle cases of wife abandonment by men who flock to South Africa in search of greener pastures.
“It is a worrisome situation here. Most young men simply marry women and leave them at home alone and go to South Africa in search of economic opportunities.
“We want to lobby for establishment of by-laws which will make a woman have freedom to divorce a husband who cannot return from South Africa after a period of three years,” he says.
Gondwe is one of the 25 male champions trained in the area under the project, which falls under the European Union (EU)-funded Spotlight Initiative (SI) which ActionAid Malawi is implementing with funding from United Nations (UN) Women.
Geared towards accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls including SGBV and harmful practices, SI is built around six inter-connected and mutually reinforcing pillars focusing on laws and policies, institutions, prevention and social norms, response services, data and the women’s rights movement.
Reflecting on SI’s impact in 2021, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati commended the EU-UN partnership for complementing government’s efforts in eliminating violence against women and girls in Malawi.
“The fight against violence against women and girls is not for government alone. As government, we are excited to see how the Spotlight Initiative has contributed to the protection of rights of women and girls in the past years,” Kaliati said.