In September 2010, Malawi was shaken with a story of how Linda Gasa, a pregnant 25-year-old Zimbabwean, student at Malawi College of Accountancy (MCA) in Blantyre, was murdered under suspicious circumstances.
Her married lover Misonzi Chanthunya stands accused of the murder. Chanthunya, fled to South Africa following his alleged crime and he has been fighting against his extradition since 2012 when he was arrested in the rainbow nation.
Recently, he applied for bail and discharge in the High Court of Malawi Lilongwe Registry on the grounds that all attempts to fight against extradition were exhausted and that the Malawi Government is delaying to extradite him.
While that was not the first time for a woman to be abused by her lover, but when the murder incident happened, with the reaction it got, many might have thought that was the end, but no, we were in for more.
In the recent past, several cases have been reported of how women have suffered various abuses in the hands of their intimate partners, some even to the point of losing their precious lives.
In August alone, about five cases were reported. These include murder of a woman in Chilinde Township in Lilongwe by her ex-boyfriend, murder of a woman by her husband in Mulanje, the stabbing of a 29-year-woman by an acquaintance and murder of a woman and her mother by her former husband in Mangochi.
True and terrifying, these are stories of love completely and horrifyingly gone off the rails, stories of passion getting super scary between partners, ex-partners or a pair who thought they were well acquainted with each other.
These cases, isolated as they may seem to be, represent many cases of Malawian women who suffer from intimate partner violence (IPV) – violence that encompasses physical, sexual and psychological violence, or any combination of these acts.
Regardless of social status, age, education and religious backgrounds, many Malawian women face similar horrible experiences from people they are intimate with or have been intimate with at some time, these are usually present or former spouses and sexual partners.
Currently, according to the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2015-16, more than four in 10 ever-married women have experienced spousal violence, whether physical or sexual or emotional.
The survey also found that spousal violence is highest among ever-married women who are divorced/separated/ widowed (57 percent) and those from the Northern and Central regions (both 47 percent).
Ironically, this is happening when Malawi, both at international and national level, has sufficient legal instruments aimed at dealing with violence against women as well as contributing to the creation of a protective environment for them.
On international level, Malawi ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development, among others.
On a national level, Malawi has a legislative framework that includes the Constitution, which criminalises all forms of gender-based violence, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 2006, the Gender Equality Act of 2013 and the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act of 2015, among others.
Against the background of all these legal instruments, how come the practice is still prevalent? Of course, law is not the final answer to the question ending violence against women.
Recently, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Jean Kalilani, said that despite registering progress in passing the laws and frameworks to fight gender-based violence, there is a need for civic education (focusing human rights awareness) to break the culture of secrecy that prevents some victims from reporting the cases to police.
“There is also a need to address stigma and discrimination associated with being a victim of gender-based violence. Oftentimes, reporting of violence can turn out to be a source of stigma, rebuke and isolation on the part of the victim,” she said.
While the public can only speculate on factors that lead men to abuse, and sometimes go to the extent of murdering, their intimate partners, Chiwoza Bandawe, a clinical psychologist at the College of Medicine, a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), says there are many factors.
Bandawe says displacement of anger; issues of power; and trauma that was not dealt with are some of the factors. On displacement of anger, he says, usually, men who physically abuse their intimate partners are angry with other issues in their lives and they resort to vent their anger on the person close to them, the woman.
“Then, there are men who believe that the only way to deal with conflicts is violence while others simply have got trauma issues that were not dealt with appropriately, for example, they grow up seeing their fathers abusing their mothers,” says the psychologist.
He adds that such cases are worrying, they make women vulnerable in relationships and it is important that, once a physical attack is done by an intimate partner, both partners should get to the root of it rather than sweeping it under.
“The mistake that happens is, women usually think because it has happened once, then it will not happen again. It is important that when an abuse happens, sorry should not be enough,” he says, adding: “Partners should establish the feelings that led to the abuse as well as set limits at the onset before abuses become a pattern.”
A 2013 ‘Patterns of Intimate Partner Violence: a study of female victims in Malawi’, agrees with Bandawe citing partner’s substance abuse, early intercourse and childhood experiences of sexual abuse and/or IPV in the home as some of the risk factors associated with female victimisation from intimate partners violence. n