oday is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The United Nations General Assembly designated the day for countries and individuals to reflect on violence against women across the world. This day also marks the beginning of a campaign aimed at eliminating all forms of gender-based violence (GBV) called 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The theme for the campaign this year is Generation Equality Stands Against Rape.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, which may not even include emotional, financial and verbal abuse. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres describes violence against women and girls as “A menace which takes many forms, ranging from domestic violence to trafficking, from sexual violence in conflict to child marriage, genital mutilation and femicide, and does not only harm the individual, but also has far-reaching consequences for families and the society.”
Eliminating violence is not just an issue of rights and access to justice; but also, an accelerator of the development agenda for Malawi. Denying the rights of women and girls, is not only wrong in itself; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back.
Despite advances in gender equality over the last decade, Malawi ranks 145/188 on the Gender Inequality Index (GII), reflecting high levels of inequality in reproductive health, women’s empowerment, and economic activity. Additionally, violence against women and girls and harmful practices remain serious. Also, the country has a lot to do in terms of women empowerment. Currently, out of the 193 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly, 44 seats are held by women representing 22.79 percent, posing a challenge to maximum representation and deliberation of women and girls’ issues.
Although the country has achieved gender parity in primary school enrolment, the transition rate of girls to secondary school in Malawi remains low and the drop-out rate high. UN findings indicate that nine percent of girls in Malawi are married by the age of 15 while 46 percent are married by 18, ranking Malawi as the 11th country globally with high cases of child marriage.
Much as key drivers include attitudes that accept and tolerate the practice, poverty (especially for girls in the rural areas) has resulted in girls being married off to improve family finances. In some instances, they have been given in marriage as repayment of debts.
Keeping girls in school is key to protecting them from early marriage and reducing their vulnerability to Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Additionally, school-related SGBV is a barrier to the right of learners to safe quality education. Therefore, putting in place interventions that will keep the girls in school will enable them stay focused, make good decisions about their sexual health rights and become reliable citizens of the country.
The Government of Malawi has shown great commitment to eliminate GBV. Malawi is party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The country’s Constitution also prohibits discrimination of persons in any form and obliges the State to promote gender equality. The government has also adopted several policies and legal frameworks to address GBV issues. However, although this is the case, SGBV remains a serious problem in Malawi.
Since January 2019, the UN, in partnership with the European Union under the leadership of the Government of Malawi, embarked on a multi-year programme—The Spotlight Initiative. It is being implemented in six districts namely, Dowa, Ntchisi, Machinga, Nsanje, Mzimba and Nkhata-Bay to address GBV and promote equality as stipulated in goal number 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In Malawi, women constitute 51 percent of the total population and there are more than five million girls under the age of 18. Accelerating the achievement of the SDG agenda by 2030 cannot ignore half of the population and cannot leave women and girls behind. Let’s empower our women and girls in Malawi to make irreversible the path to development and SDGs in Malawi.