Sexual deprivation: Silent concern in disaster camps

DISPLACED THOUSANDS—Freddy-induced disasters

By Kondwani Magombo:

The Village Civil Protection Committee (VCPC) at Livunzu Cyclone Freddy Evacuation Camp in Traditional Authority Makhwira in Chikwawa was one day faced with a grievance that required immediate redress.

The complaint was brought before the committee by one of the displaced women, a mother of a one-year-old baby, who had had a quarrel with her husband over sex.


According to the VCPC’s chairperson, Zione Ngalu, the woman had complained that her husband, who was also staying at the camp, had demanded conjugal rights from his wife, which the latter turned down.

Charged with anger, the man accused his wife of getting her sexual satisfaction from other men at the camp and, thus, a fight ensued.

“It was an intense quarrel and if we had not intervened, perhaps the two could have ended up fighting physically,” Ngalu told a visiting team from the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare and civil society organisations in April.


The team, with support from the Malawi Irish Consortium on Gender-based Violence, sought to sensitise the displaced people on gender based violence, among other issues.

Located along the East Bank Road at Livunzu Primary School, the camp was, at the time, home to 1,660 men, women and children from 212 households that were displaced by the impacts of the cyclone in March.

With men and boys sleeping in classrooms on one side, and women and girls sleeping in classrooms on the other side, one would only fantasise conjugal rights fulfilment.

But that was not the case with the aforementioned man who pestered his wife for the act, nevertheless.

According to Ngalu, besides the unfriendly environment for the bedroom acts, the woman argued that she needed to acquire contraceptive products first to prevent avoid falling pregnant.

“It was a valid point because, according to the woman, they were displaced by the floods two days before she was scheduled to go to a clinic to get the contraceptives.

“We calmed the situation and, coincidentally, health workers from our district health office visited the camp the following day and, among other services, they offered contraceptive services to those who needed them and,” Ngalu said.

But it is not men alone who appeared to yearn for bedroom pleasures in the evacuation camps: women, too, came in the open during the sensitisation meetings, explaining how the disastrous act of nature had deprived them of the rights.

Women, especially those in sexually active ages, camping at Mission for Africa Church in TA Lundu, in Chikwawa, minced no words when they presented the ‘grievance’ to the sensitisation team.

“Since we arrived here, we have never had any case of abuse or gender-based violence. However, our main challenge is failure to exercise our conjugal rights,” a 30-year-old mother of three said.

Another 20-year-old mother of one concurred with her colleague, saying as a newly married woman, the last thing she could want to miss was good bedroom time with her husband.

But while other men and women shared the same feelings with the women in most of the camps that the Malawi Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence sensitisation team visited, to some, what mattered most was a shelter and what the future held for them.

“The issue of sexual deprivation in the camp is real but I think it is trivial for someone who has lost everything to be worrying about conjugal rights,” Nyachilenda Camp chairperson Nowa Kamasho said.

On the other hand, some people believed that the issue of conjugal rights at camps was a personal matter that required individuals’ initiative to solve.

“Let the couples who feel pressed for conjugal rights make an initiative to exercise their rights without undermining the dignity that this nature-given act deserves,” explained one man, who preferred to just be identified as Mavuto.

He was at Kapalakonje Camp in TA Malemia, Nsanje, where 7,543 men, women and children from 1,479 families had escaped to.

The Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare acknowledges the deprivation of conjugal rights among married couples as one of the many challenges which create room for gender-based violence and other abuses in the camps.

According to the ministry’s Public Relations Officer, Pauline Kaude, the ministry is not idle on this.

“Together with our partners, we are proposing provision of more family tents so that couples could still enjoy and exercise their conjugal rights,” Kaude said in a response to a questionnaire.

But while sexual deprivation appears to be a growing voice in the camps, not so many sexual harassment cases are being recorded, according to most camp leaders.

This is the case due to strict security measures enforced in the camps through various committees under councils’ protection clusters.

With more and more evacuation camps being decommissioned by the Department of Disaster and Management Affairs, the contentious subject is likely to take care of itself as the survivors return home. —Mana

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