Violence against women and girls (VAWG) remain one of the most shocking and persistent human rights violations that affects women and girls of all ages from every society, all classes, races, ethnicities, religions, immigrant statuses and sexualities in the world.
In Malawi, women and girls continue to face widespread forms of violence including sexual harassment and abuse in many of the spaces they populate beginning from their homes, workplaces, the streets and on public transport. According to MDHS 2010 report, two in five women in Malawi experience either physical or sexual violence. An estimated population of 2.4 million children are also growing up in violent homes, witnessing domestic violence and experiencing its negative effects. Regardless of this, the scourge of violence against women in Malawi remain largely hidden due to assumptions that it is a private matter and/or an acceptable cultural norm, given women’s subordination to men and the lack of appropriate institutional responses and government support for victims and gender equality. Violence Against women and girls in private and public spaces stems from both laws (de jure) or from traditional practices (de facto). These factors are well embedded in the social-cultural, economic and Policy-legal environment and affect VAWG prevention and response work.
To contribute towards Malawi Government’s aim of reducing VAWG, ActionAid Women’s rights theme has been implementing an Irish aid funded Women’s Rights Program( WRP) since January, 2012. The primary goal of the program is to support women and girls in rural and urban areas to challenge and reject gender-based violence that would have denied them control over their bodies. The program further seeks to strengthen women’s access to comprehensive and quality VAWG response service.
The Women’s Rights Programme (WRP) is a multi-country project funded by Irish Aid (IA) to be implemented for a period of four years from 2012 to 2015 and later extended to the end of 2016. Locally the program is named Ufulu Wa Amayi (UWAMA) in Malawi.
The program is a primarily a behaviour change initiative that seeks to enhance the capability and motivation of women to claim their rights; to create opportunities for them to do so; and to increase the capability and motivation of all relevant actors to change policies and systems in favour of equality between women and men, girls and boys.
The initiative is aligned with ActionAid’s Strategic Objective 5 that aims to support women and girls to break the cycle of poverty and violence, build economic alternatives, and claim control over their bodies. Its objectives are twofold:
- To mobilize women and girls in target areas to challenge and reject gender
based violence in a supportive environment.
- To support women to have greater access to resources, more control over their income and
more time to engage in commercial activities.
ActionAid is implementing the project in five districts namely Chitipa, Karonga, Rumphi, Salima, and Chiradzulu, targeting three Traditional Authorities (T/As) from each district. AT country level, implementation of the project is greatly underpinned by organization’s commitment vastly reflected by its desire to create “a world without poverty and injustice in which every person enjoys their right to a life of dignity” (Action Aid’s International Strategy 2012-2017).
2015 external evaluation report for the program notes that ActionAid has the opportunity to grow the initial investment made in WRP. The programme has managed to successfully create a civil society “bridge” between VAW/G survivors and formal redress systems, as well as providing front-line care and support for women. WRP gains and broad achievements to be taken to the next level include;
Changes in behavior of primary actors in relation to GBV: Significant changes in behavior of targeted women have been observed across all five districts; reflecting growing individual knowledge and confidence, and greater solidarity and activism achieved in the creation of networks from local to national levels. ActionAid’s targeting of the poorest communities appears to be consistently good. It is also the case that many women within those communities are likely to have become better off through their association with Reflect circles, Savings/Loans and business development support, thereby illustrating the success of the model.
Changes in local level policies to promote rights of women and girls: There has been an increased demand from both women and their allied groups especially men and local leader’s men to review customary practices that condone violence.
Changes in effectiveness of women’s networks against violence: significant progress has been made in the establishment of solidarity networks providing moral and practical support to survivors, and engines of change within local communities. There is no doubt their existence has helped to increase reporting on violence by women to local women’s networks. Women Forum – which is a network of grassroots women mobilized in all the five districts, is formidable and strong to unit women’s voices in demanding reduction of VAWG and its effective response.
Changes in access to justice for survivors of violence: from a very low base, increases in access to justice services for women (through, for example, paralegal advice) have been a commendable achievement for WRP. The support has also included accompanying women and girls affected by violence through the appropriate steps to protect evidence and approach the relevant law enforcement and judicial actors. At the same time, the obstacles in the way of women and girls receiving full justice are many and evident across all districts. There is tension in most communities between the role of formal and traditional judicial systems. WRP has navigated some of these tensions well, and others less so.