In 2015, her husband left for South Africa. To her, that was not strange. For Mzimba men, who find the going tough, and there are no local options, trekking down south is the easiest option.
Close to seven years since her husband left the country, Lucia Mkandawire, from Traditional Authority (T/A) Chindi in Mzimba has to face the struggle of single-handedly raising her five children. The 42-year-old narrated how difficult life has become to her and her children.
“Since he left for South Africa, he is not giving us enough support. At one point, after one of my children failed examinations, my husband stopped sending school fees. Over the years, life has become difficult. Now, I have to fend for the whole family alone,” Mkandawire said.
She joined Luweya Community-Based Organisation (CBO), where she acquired business skills. “I started farming. I grow maize and groundnuts. Through that, I am able to get everything I need as well as support my children’s education,” she said.
She said, from the same farming, she has been able to acquire livestock. She is now a proud owner of three head of cattle. And the lack of support women are experiencing has forced some of their children to find ways of survival.
One of the children whose father is also currently in South Africa, but does not receive any support from him, is 15-yearold Violet Kumwenda. Pregnant at the time of the interview, she narrated how difficult life became in the absence of support from her father.
“My father is in South Africa. I was not getting enough support. I decided to get married. I had no problem in my marriage but some people came to take me out, saying I am too young,” Violet said.
It is not uncommon for Malawian men to go to South Africa in search of greener pastures. This has been a long term tradition.
However, most of them forget their families the moment they settle down in the Rainbow Nation. We managed to get in touch with a man who is from Mangochi and has been in South Africa for over a decade.
“Some struggle to get jobs here. The little they get is used for their survival. It is, therefore, difficult to send the needed support to their families back home.
“However, there are some who are working. Some of us are able to assist our families and relatives back home.
However, some, who are fun- seeking, forget everything about home. They even marry here,” he said.
United Nations (UN)’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 aims at promoting gender equality.
The UN believes that ending all discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but also crucial for a sustainable future. It states that empowering women and girls helps economic growth and development.
Malawi is among 13 countries globally, and eight countries in Africa, selected to receive part of the global grant of €500 million from the European Union (EU) to implement the Spotlight Initiative.
The initiative, which has been implemented since 2019, is focusing on eliminating violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices.
Mzimba is one of the districts where the Spotlight Initiative is being implemented. The other beneficiary districts are Nkhata Bay, Ntchisi, Dowa, Machinga and Nsanje. One of the projects being implemented under the initiative focuses on building the capacity of women and girls with disability to respond to GBV.
The Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) is implementing the project in T/As Chilooko and Kalumo in
Ntchisi and T/As Chindi and Mtwalo in Mzimba.
The economic activities that have enabled Mkandawire to support her family are being implemented under the Spotlight Initiative. It is also through the same intervention that Violet has been taken out of marriage.
However, there are growing calls that more has to be done to eliminate violence against women and girls.
Euthini Police Unit Victim Support Unit officer, Florence Chitsulo Chirwa, said there are many acts of violence against women and girls in T/A Chindi.
“Some girls are being raped. Others are taken to South Africa after being told that they will be employed, but they only end up being sexually abused there.
“As for some women, their husbands go to South Africa, leaving them suffering at home. The husbands stay for a long time there, without sending any assistance to them,” Chirwa said.
She indicated the project Macoha has been implementing in the area has helped improve things in the catchment area of the police unit.
“We have embarked on awareness campaigns. People are able to know what violence is. At the beginning, some did not even know that some of the things they were doing were acts of violence. For instance, they did not know that verbal abuse and failure to give a person the needed support are forms of violence,” Chirwa said.
Acting Clerk at Euthini Magistrates’ Court Lughano Ghambi said the court registers many cases of violence against women and girls.
“The women whose husbands go to South Africa, and do not send support back home, lodge their complaints here. Some women take their complaints to CBOs where they are later referred to us. We try as much as possible to assist them,” she said.
She further said some men take as long as 10 years before they come back home. This, according Ghambi, is becoming a big burden to women.
“The other danger is that, considering that these men are away from their wives for along time, back here, the women are involved in extra-marital affairs,” Ghambi added.
Manager for the project at Macoha McRobert Manjale said CBOs are playing a crucial role in fighting GBV.
“Women are involved in awareness campaigns [about GBV]. In cases where they have found a girl who is married, they take her out of marriage and send her back to school.
“We are also involved in economic empowerment of women. We are giving them loans, which are being used to promote farming among the members,” he said.
Similar successes have been registered in T/A Mtwalo, where Kafukule and Fiskani CBOs are vibrant.