NGOs urge Malawi’s new leader to promote human rights

Dr Francis Makiya making a presentation on the magnitude of unsafe abortion in Malawi during the training

Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJ) has urged the new administration of President Dr Lazarus Chakwera to prioritise the advancement of human rights for all the citizens.

“We urge the new administration to promote and defend human rights for all the citizens without discrimination based on including region, tribe, religion, gender, sex or sexual orientation,” said CSJ executive director Brian Ligomeka.

He made the call during a day-long training on sexual and reproductive health for traditional and religious leaders in Blantyre on Thursday.

“Our new leader needs to remember that he is a head of state for a secular nation called Malawians. Many Malawians who voted for him may not share his religious beliefs but trusted his leadership skills and the promises he made,” said Ligomeka.

He added CSJ expected the new administration to support the enjoyment of human rights, which include sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

“On SHRH, the government, through the Law Commission, drafted the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill, embedded in a report on abortion law reforms. We want the proposed bill enacted,” Ligomeka said.

Concerned with the high rates of unsafe abortions which are responsible for causing complications and deaths among women and girls, CSJ is among reproductive health groups championing for abortion law reforms.

Over 141,000 girls and women in Malawi induce abortions every year, according to research conducted by the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine and Guttmacher Institute in 2015.

The research finding revealed the rate of 38 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–49.

Speaking during the same training, Coalition of Prevention for Unsafe Abortion (COPUA) secretary-general Dr Francis Makiya said the current out-dated abortion-related laws needed reform.

“Unsafe abortions remain one of the top five causes of maternal mortality and morbidity in Malawi where the most affected are poor women and girls,” he said.

He said law reform could reduce unsafe abortions that contribute up to 18 percent of maternal deaths. 

 Similar call

In a related development, Human Rights Watch has admonished Chakwera to use his electoral victory as an opportunity to reset the country’s human rights record. 

President Lazarus Chakwera has pledged to be a leader for all Malawians

“President Chakwera should place respect for human rights and the rule of law at the centre of his new administration,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The new president needs to put into action his own words that his victory at the polls is a victory for democracy and justice.”

According to the global rights watchdog, Malawi faces a myriad of human rights challenges, including violence and discrimination against women and girls. 

Despite Parliament amending the constitution to make marriage before the age of 18, child marriages are still rampant.

“Up to 42 percent of women are married by age 18, and 9 percent by age 15,” observes Human Rights Watch.

Another challenge the organisation has brought to the attention of Chakwera is the prohibition of consensual same-sex relations that foster a climate of fear and fuel violence and discrimination. 

Research shows that attitudes of Malawians towards the LGBTIQ community are slowly changing

HRW statement observed that the punitive legal environment combined with social stigma allows police abuse to go unchecked and prevents many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from reporting violence or getting medical care.

 “President Chakwera should give particular attention to improving the lives of people in Malawi who have suffered inequality and discrimination,” Mavhinga said. “The prevailing goodwill from the people of Malawi and the global community should not be wasted.”

Chakwera said in his inauguration speech that his victory “will fulfil the dream of a new Malawi that will be for everyone.”  –Additional reporting by Emily Banda, CSJ