If you ask Maulana Bwanali of John Wasili Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Amidu in Balaka District, he will tell you that harsh criticism of perpetrators of gender-based violence (GBV) spurs the vice.
“I got married in 2014 to Shaireen Benson. But, later on, I started cheating on her. I did this for close to three years. A number of people, including my wife, criticised me for this extra marital affair but I continued the malpractice because they were all being judgmental.
“What I needed most during that period was counselling and I am happy that I finally got it some four months ago. I was approached and counselled by community action groups and I am now a role model,” says Bwanali, a father of one.
Women’s Legal Resources Centre (Wolrec), through a project being implemented in T/ As Amidu and Nkaya, is, among other things, integrating former GBV perpetrators.
These men are ca l led abambo a chitsanzo for the role they play in the fight against GBV. These men reach out to their fellows and sensitise them on the ills of GBV.
No wonder, on November 30 this year, Bwanali was given a platform at Magombo Community-based Childcare Centre in T/A Amidu to give his testimony as part of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against GBV.
The days are celebrated worldwide from November 25 to December 10 to raise awareness on GBV.
“We o r g a n i s e d t h i s awareness meeting to help in the fight against GBV that is mostly done to women and girls,” says Wolrec Communications Officer, Dumase Zgambo- Mapemba.
Zgambo-Mapemba says T/As Amidu and Nkaya were selected for the project because a baseline survey that exposed, increase in cases of GBV and also harmful cultural practices that are subjecting women and girls to HIV infection.
“As an organisation, we have formulated Community Action and Community Activists Groups and also trained 30 members as community paralegals to help the cause of fighting GBV.
“We started implementing the project in January 2016 and it will end in December 2019. So far, the project has managed to rescue a number of adolescent girls from early marriages. Apart from that, there are vibrant groups of men who were perpetrators of GBV,” she says.
Regrettably, T/A Amidu claims his subjects are not coming forth to report GBV cases for his action.
“I have noted a culture of silence among you, my subjects. But that has to stop if we are going to win the fight against GBV,” the T/A pleads.
But Trocaire Gender Equality Technical Adviser, Steven Iphani, feels the unreported cases are a result of lack of knowledge about the legal framework that protects them against GBV.
“From what we see and research, it’s clear that many people do not understand the issues around policies and laws that we have. The country has normalised the vice because it is happening to almost everyone. So they don’t bother reporting the acts to authorities for action,” Iphani says.
He adds: “In some cases, the institutions tasked to address the problems have also normalised the violence. There are people who do not encourage people to access the service—for example, victims that go to the police or VSU [Victim Support Unit] are told that, that’s not an issue just go and discuss. The sad part is that one case of violence leads to another and it becomes a bigger problem for that woman or man. This aggravates cases of GBV.”
He, therefore, says the best way to address GBV is to popularise existing laws and policies.
“For instance, within our programming, we have budget lines for supporting local partners to have activities around popularising the laws. Last year, we trained key community activists, traditional leaders in these pieces of legislation such as the Gender Equality Act and Prevention of Domestic Violence Act so that communities can have an understanding of the laws,” says Iphani.
Although efforts are being made to fight the vice using local structures and legal framework, one clear message is that poverty is the main driving force behind almost any of the abuses and violent acts.
Perhaps this is why the government is economically empowering women.
Balaka District Gender Officer,Hannah Kisyombe Nyirenda, says her office is in the forefront encouraging women to engage in small-scale businesses to empower them economically.
“Our gender desk is helping to empower women through small-scale businesses and also encouraging them to become members of village savings groups. These activities would economically empower them; hence, overcoming some of the abuses they undergo in the hands of their husbands due to poverty,” Nyirenda says.
A closer look at this year’s 16 Days of activism theme— ‘Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women’— reveals that the community remains pivotal in supporting survivors of violence and also in preventing violence from happening.