Mobilizing young women to fight workplace sexual violence in Malawi

Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - 11:38

Moureen Phiri is a 23-year-old woman from Malawi living with HIV. A survivor of sexual violence at work, she became a movement leader to address sexual abuse in the workplace and offer support to other women survivors. 

Moureen left home at the age of 14 to help her family. "I was almost the breadwinner for the family, having lost my father when I was three," she says. Moureen was then a volunteer at an organization that supports people living with HIV and AIDS. "The organization opened my eyes to the importance of adhering to treatment. Also, most of the organization's staff members were a great company for me. I almost felt at home." she remembers.

Impressed by her determination and commitment, the staff encouraged Moureen to be a focal person - mobilizing girls and young women living with HIV to access antiretroviral therapy (ART). But Moureen's happiness in this role was short lived. After two months, her male supervisor began to make sexual advances on her.

"He would forcibly hug me, touch my private parts, and kiss me against my wish and consent. I no longer found the working environment conducive," she says 

Moureen left a few weeks later; a sad but not uncommon story for numerous young women who are subject to sexual violence at work. According to a Malawi Government report, one in five women between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced at least one incident of sexual violence before they turned 18 years old. 

Moureen joined other girls who also refuse to have their rights violated at work and started a digital campaign to mobilize girls and young women across the country to report incidents of violence at work, under the #ndilulura and #Iwontbesilent hashtags.

Moureen says "the campaign is a platform both to report and to hold [perpetrators] accountable under the Gender Equality Act and other laws of which Malawi is a signatory.".

The campaign will help to link survivors of sexual violence to the essential services package, a coordinated set of quality multi-sectoral services for all women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence. Support includes medical treatment, social and psychological support, and access to justice. Supported by ActionAid Malawi (AAM), the campaign is expected to reach many young women trapped in sexual violence at work.

I don't want any girls to go through what happened to me

The #16days of activism campaign calls for governments, the International Labour Organization and its constituencies to take action to prevent gender-based violence in the world of work.

The 16 Days of Activism campaign is coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and brings together over 6,000 organizations in 187 countries to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence. Read more about it: www.16dayscampaign.org