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In a village in Machinga, Malawi RTE 2fm DJ Keith Walsh met with a youth group who are working hard to challenge the social norms that tolerate abuse against women and expect silence in return.
Globally one in three women experience physical or sexual violence. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable. Nov 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
In Malawi, an estimated one in five young women experience sexual abuse prior to the age of eighteen. Only 9% of girls who have been assaulted receive any professional help.
Trócaire partner Ujamma Pamodzi are working with youth groups in Malawi to break the silence. Their name, a mixture of Swahili and Malawi’s language Chichewa, loosely translates as extended family together. The group we met was a mix of youth in their late teens and twenties. A sense of unity, togetherness and resolve came strongly from them as we talked to them about their work, hopes and plans for the future.
They told us how women in their village have faced sexual, physical and verbal violence. Ujamma Pamdodzi are tackling this in a number of ways through teaching youth groups communication skills, boundaries, self efficacy, self assertiveness and self defence.
Frida Mausem says ‘I have learned self defence in the group and I know a lot more about what my rights are.’
‘Our meetings have really benefited us’ says Ethel Black, 26. ‘We are able to learn from each other. Because of the techniques we’ve learned in the training, we are able to intervene when there is a problem.’
The men and women meet separately and together to discuss the problem of violence against women.
Shakira Nicks, 27, says, ‘being part of this group has helped me become more assertive in public. Most women are too shy in public. Now I can speak up and speak about my rights. We make sure we encourage other girls in the community to join our group too.’
Wily Chinkanga, 27, says he now feels confident enough to challenge someone if they are in a group and one of the men is being disrespectful towards women. Max Chimkango says ‘we now are able to tell our friends who haven’t had the training what consent is.’
Wily says ‘there are other cultural practices that were practiced here that were really harmful, mostly to women. Most of the women didn’t know their rights and couldn’t speak up. Now we are able to stand up against these practices and as a group we want to end them.’
One of these practices is child marriage. Shakira says,
‘The rate of child marriage is high because people don’t understand the importance of education for a girl. They would view a girl as someone who helped with household chores and later on would be married off. But there are campaigns now against child marriage, for girl child education, that is changing.’
Another key activity the group are carrying out is taking drama, music and discussion groups to other villages.
Willes Kakore, 25, says ‘we have learned and know that people have rights so we make it our mission to let people know their rights and responsibilities. Children need to know their rights. Our group, we visit other villages and do activities like drama and music and group discussions to educate people about children’s rights. Many children’s rights are being violated. We have problems with child labour, child trafficking. Villages are inviting us now to do this work with them. When we work in a village we make sure we reach all the chiefs and authorities in the village.’
Rasheed says ‘some chiefs would look down on us and not listen but some are willing to listen. Sometimes because of the level of education, chiefs will respond differently. Most young people don’t feel able to confront the elders in the village. In the youth groups, we provide a way these issues can be raised.’
Shakira says ‘we would like to get more training about violence and rights and responsibilities.’
‘We want to scale up our activities so we are looking for more resources to do that’ says Willes. ‘We are doing some farming as a group initiative to raise income for our activities.’
November 25 marks the start of an annual campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. The campaign runs until Human Rights Day on December 10.