Sandra Machinjili is a feminist who is passionate about the need for equality.
She is a legal practitioner, currently in litigation. She works at Nyirenda & Msisha under the supervision of Modecai Msisha, SC.
“Primarily, I am a feminist and I’m not even sure of when the seed of feminism was planted in me because it’s become so integral to who I am.
“The passion to uplift marginalised groups is just a core quality at this point and I can’t imagine not pursuing activism. My work involves lobbying, specifically for legal reforms in gender actualised law,” said Sandra.
The lawyer has worked with organisations that empower women such as the Women Judges Association of Malawi and the Women Lawyers Association.
She is currently working under a strategic litigation project for the Women Lawyers Association.
This project protects female victims of sexual harassment by providing them with the requisite legal advice and representation.
“While these organisations are associated with huge projects, I also dedicate my efforts to smaller, but equally important projects. I’m particularly passionate about children’s rights and improving their literacy,” Sandra said.
In 2018, Sandra, alongside Beauty Kambewa and Ulemu Kanyongolo co-founded Pamchenga Literacy Club to improve literacy among children through drama, arts and sports.
The activist recently became a board member of Women Inspire, an NGO that empowers young women and girls from rural and underprivileged communities.
Sandra has also been working on her advocacy skills and recently attended a training programme in trial advocacy hosted by Justice Advocacy Africa, with participants from across Africa.
She is a member of the Rotaract Club in Blantyre, which regularly engages in charity work.
Some of the challenges Sandra faces in her activism is the pushback by some people.
“Change comes with a lot of push-back. People in power are reluctant to help marginalised groups and bureaucracy is convoluted and tedious. I get frustrated sometimes with meetings, applications, letters and forms when implementing a project,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Sandra is still highly motivated by the promise of the future.
“I tell myself that whatever is happening, even if it seems I can’t deal with it, the day always ends, as it has to and that keeps me going,” she said.
Sandra observed that feminism is important not only through the way it affects our laws, but also in the general landscape of Malawian society.
“Firstly, it affords the opportunity to change the system in which women are considered second-class citizens and secondly, it works to dismantle the harmful structure of patriarchy which limits all aspects of our country’s development— whether economic, political or social,” she added.
Sandra comes from a family of five; two older sisters, an older brother and a younger sister.
Her core focus is legal research, drafting, taking instructions and providing advice to clients.
She is also responsible for developing and implementing litigation strategies, attending court and liaising with private and public bodies on various legal matters.
“It is strenuous work and most people will be surprised to know that attending court is a small percentage of what goes into being a lawyer,” she said.
Sandra did her O’ levels at Kalibu Academy and later went to Chancellor College to study Bachelor of Arts in Humanities.
After her first year, she applied to the Faculty of Law to pursue a Bachelor of Laws degree.
She graduated in May 2021.
According to Sandra, politics is what inspired her to pursue law.
She said: “I was drawn to the way our courts and justice system influence and shape politics in our country. I was sure I would flourish in this career from that point.”
Sandra enjoys the development of the jurisprudence of Malawi.
She also enjoys reading and discovering new interpretations of the law which guide and invigorate her work.
Sandra, however, admits to facing some challenges in her work, particularly prejudice she says is rampant in professional circles.
“Even though I work hard to ensure my career grows and my activism makes a difference, I still doubt myself. I push on, telling myself that if I stop, I achieve nothing.
“I also face a lot of sexism in my profession. Female lawyers are not given their deserved accolades the way their male colleagues are. I have even experienced opponents trying to belittle me just because of my gender,” she added.
Her greatest achievements so far was being admitted to the Malawian Bar and joining a prestigious profession full of well-respected peers and academics.
“I am aware of the privilege afforded to me in this career and I am always proud of myself for coming as far as I have. I am also proud of working under the supervision of one of the best lawyers in Malawi, Msisha. I aspire to becoming a great litigator t like him,” said Sandra.
She advises young girls to always focus and put themselves first.
She urges the importance of having a clear vision and working towards it.
Sandra also encourages girls to pursue their goals because if they don’t, they will never know whether they would succeed.
She said her parents always used to encourage her by telling her she is a shooting star, which has stuck with me to date.
Sandra said all girls are shooting stars capable of breaking barriers.
In her free time, Sandra enjoys going to the gym, reading and travelling.
“I spend a lot of time in the gym to work off stress and keep healthy. When I need downtime, I sit down with a good book or novel. I have also recently taken up travelling within Malawi to explore and appreciate different parts of the country. I am particularly excited to learn what the different parts of the country have to offer,” concluded Sandra.