When James Nyamatcherenga, 35, migrated to South Africa in 2019 in search of economic opportunities, his wife, Mary, was confident that the sojourn would transform the status of the family.
Before he left, Nyamatcherenga, who comes from Nkhutche Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Malemia in Nsanje District, assured his wife of sustained financial support to her and their three school-going children.
But that was not to be. Only once did he send the money directly to his wife. All the subsequent transfers were made through his parents who controlled how the money could be expended.
“My parents-in-law told him that I am wasteful. I have tried to explain to him, but he does not believe me. His decision to send the money through his parents has rendered me and the children destitute,” Mary explains.
Malawi is among countries that have lately registered massive migration of both skilled and unskilled labour to South Africa as young people seek sustainable survival strategies.
Labour migration from Malawi to the Rainbow Nation has been exacerbated by many factors such as lack of employment opportunities, low income, poor working conditions coupled with big differences in wages in South Africa and Malawi
Large-scale migrations to South Africa are still common—57 years after Malawi got her independence from Britain.
According to the International Journal of Research in Geography (IJRG), Mzimba, Nkhata Bay and Mangochi are the districts in Malawi that produce many out migrants, especially to South Africa.
Many of the out migrants from these districts are those who are uneducated and unskilled.
Much of the remittances derived from migrants with low skills are normally sent to their families compared to highly skilled migrants whose remittances back home are minimal.
This is because migration of unskilled migrants is short term and temporary and basically involving leaving behind close family members.
But, speaking during a public awareness activity at Chididi Disciples Church in Nsanje recently, women whose husbands are working in South Africa revealed that the remittances have also led to economic and financial abuse of women.
With support from UN Women through the Spotlight Initiative Project, the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) conducted the activity to mobilise and train key community gatekeepers such as traditional, religious and political leaders on women empowerment and its impact on their communities.
The major objective of the activity was to share knowledge and experiences on the importance of empowering women to exercise their full potential in every aspect of life at the same time assisting the participants understand cultural norms that perpetrate violence against women and girls (VAWG) and ways of dealing with those cultural norms.
The women complained that they had become victims of economic abuse in the hands of their controlling parents-in-law.
“Our parents-in-laws believe it is their right to control my husband’s money and how it should be spent. Unfortunately, when they get the money, they don’t support me and the children,” complained one of the women.
Nice District Education Officer for Nsanje, Kondwani Malunga, described this as one of the forms of economic and financial abuse.
“Economic abuse of women reduces opportunities for economic activities, diminishes resources for survival such as housing and money, lowers the standard of living, adversely affects childcare and social capital and diminishes economic self-sufficiency and self-efficacy.
“Nice initiated the Justice and Accountability Programme to end various forms of violence against women and girls through empowering them on their rights to access justice and equality,” Malunga said.
During the activity, the participants also brainstormed on some norms and practices which amount to VAWG and sexual and gender-based violence, but are considered normal in society.
These practices include a belief that a father cannot buy undergarments for his daughter who has reached puberty stage.
The participants said this practice exposes girl children to abuse by boys and men.
Banja ndi kupilira, loosely translated as marriage is endurance, is another notion that promotes VAWG as women tend not to report the violence they suffer in the hands of abusive husbands.