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Propping up gender-based violence survivors

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KAMUNDI —Absence of economic independence can be a huge barrier

By Steria Manda:

Patricia Samson, a 21-year-old single mother from Traditional Authority (TA) Chikwewo in Machinga, is recovering from the trauma she suffered since 2017 when her partner betrayed her trust.

Samson got married at 15 after falling pregnant.

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However, the husband left soon after the birth of their child.

“He never cared to provide support towards raising the baby. I have been making endless phone calls to beg him for food and other basic items for the baby, but he never responds,” Samson says.

She adds that all her attempts to hold the estranged husband accountable failed to yield the desired result.

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When the case was brought before the community victim support unit, the marriage was dissolved because it involved a minor.

Statistics from the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare indicate that Machinga is one of the districts rated with a high percentage of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and other harmful cultural practices.

The district also records high rates of child marriage, early pregnancy, poverty and neglect.

A joint baseline study by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Lilongwe (CCJP Lilongwe) and Child Rights Advocacy Paralegal Aid Centre (Crapac) established that women in Machinga face ridicule and are left to fend for their children.

“If their men have not had the chance to go to Mozambique, then they will jump from one woman to another because they don’t want

to fend for their families.

“Women end up in polygamous marriages thinking that some of their economic problems will be addressed that way,” the findings read.

But life is steadily improving for Samson, thanks to the intervention of CCJP Lilongwe and Crapac.

A project by CCJP Lilongwe and Crapac, supported by the European Union through the Spotlight Initiative, has provided start-up loans to 49 survivors of SGBV in six TAs in Machinga.

Samson is one of the beneficiaries.

Each of the 49 survivors received a K100,000 loan to enable them to set up small businesses and gain financial independence.

CCJP Lilongwe Archdiocesan Secretary Enock Kamundi says economic empowerment is key to the recovery process for SGBV survivors.

Kamundi adds that they first conducted a baseline survey to assess the needs, background training, skills and interests, and then trained the beneficiaries on how to create, set up and manage small businesses.

“All the beneficiaries have received start-up capital to guarantee economic empowerment after receiving psychosocial counselling and judicial services where necessary.

“We realised that the absence of economic independence can be a huge barrier to women in reporting and leaving abusive relationships,” he says.

Presenting a project end report, Crapac Project Officer Nelly Nthakomwa said the initiative was intended to economically empower 75 SGBV survivors in all the 21 TAs of Machinga, but ended up identifying 80 survivors, of which 49 got the loans.

“Each TA has formed a group where each survivor has contributed 10,000, which will be used as a savings and loans scheme and will also help the group start a group business,” Nthakomwa said.

He also disclosed that the majority of the survivors have already set up businesses in maize, rice, fish and fish trade.

Samson hailed the Spotlight Initiative Project for selecting her to be one of the first beneficiaries of the small start-up business initiative.

She said she intends to use proceeds from her business to finance her education as she expects to sit Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations this year.

“I want to fully support my child through my business as I have depended on my parents ever since, but now, with this support, I am confident that my business will do wonders for me,” she explained.

TA Chikwewo of Machinga pledged support to local governance and community policing structures which are said to be key in conducting surveillance, investigations and reporting cases to authorities such as the police.

The local leader also pleaded with the government and development partners to consider equipping members of these structures with equipment and skills to enable them to discharge their duties professionally.

“It is only a well-trained and equipped structure that can effectively prevent crime or SGBV from happening in the area,” Chikwewo said.

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