Gender-based violence against women, girls and babies, some as little as six months old, is a big shame to Malawi, a nation that brands itself as God-fearing, an activist has said.
Condemning the high rate of violence against women and children in Malawi on International Day for Human Rights on Thursday in Chiradzulu, Centre for Solutions Journalism director Brian Ligomeka said short and long terms are needed to end the vice.
According to Ligomeka, while in the short term the discussions are focusing on meting out stiff punishments to offenders, there is also a need to include other interventions.
“We support the call for tough sentences for gender-based violence, but that is just dealing with symptoms of the problem. There is a need to address the causes and triggers of the vice too,” he explained.
He cited discriminatory cultural beliefs, rampant poverty, lack of sound education, mental health challenges, weak law enforcement in rural areas and superstitions as some of the causes of gender-based violence.
Addressing gender-based violence, he said, involves tackling toxic religious teachings, harmful traditions and stereotypes, offering sound education that promote respect for human rights and rule of law.
Ligomeka opines that implementing strategies that can ensure mindset change and values transformation is part of the answer to the problem.
“Besides criminalizing all acts of gender-based violence and ensuring that our laws promote human rights, there is need to take action to empower women and strengthen their personal, legal, social and economic independence,” Ligomeka said.
He proposed that some school subjects like Life Skills should be reviewed to integrate substantial content on human rights and transformational values.
“The fact that even graduates are still clinging to superstitions show that our curriculum needs review. What makes graduates believe that witchdoctors or a Form 4 dropouts masquerading as prophets have supernatural powers for success exposes gaps in our education.”
He added: “Good education should empower learners to differentiate between a charlatan and a prophet, useless superstition from a strategy for success.”
Supporting GBV survivors
Speaking at the same meeting, Chiradzulu Social Welfare assistant Friday Kalaundi urged all victims of gender-based violence to report their ordeals to relevant authorities so that they can get assistance.
“The government is committed to eliminating all forms of gender-based violence. But for that to happen survivors should report to our offices and the police for intervention,” he said.
Kalaundi explained that while sexual and physical violence are the most reported forms of violence, other types of GBV are psychological and socio-economic.
On her part, Rev Bessie Liwonde of CCAP said people should refrain from blaming victims of sexual offences by offering unjustified gender stereotyping reasons.
“No one should claim that they ended up raping women or defiling children because of their dress-code. The lie that what a woman wears can provoke a man to rape her stems is wrong.
“Rape is never the victim’s fault. What a woman chooses to wear is not relevant. The most important thing to understand that sex without consent is rape,” she said.
Chiradzulu Coordinator for Community Policing Mark Munama told the meeting that the police have upped their efforts in apprehending perpetrators of gender-based violence in the district.