Four years after Eric Aniva was convicted for having sex with widows and girls, the kulowa kufa cleansing ritual still persists.
This casts misgivings on the effectiveness of legislation in ending harmful cultural practices.
This practice flouts Section 5 of the Gender Equality Act.
Activists hoped that Aniva’s conviction would end sexual cleansing and other traditions that violate rights of women and girls.
However, the kulowa kufa ritual is now being done under a blanket, making it more difficult to detect.
Can the Gender Equality Act help stop deeply entrenched practices that violate human rights? Is there anything we can do differently to end harmful practices?
For a start, there has been no consistency in the use of this law to stop the prevailing harmful traditions.
Aniva is the only person who has been convicted so far, yet many offenders could have been tried to force collective abandonment of these traditions.
If arrests of Aniva’s nature persisted, communities and traditional leaders could have reconsidered the dangers of resistance to enforce eradication of the practices.
Secondly, it was clear from the onset that Aniva’s arrest was due to external pressure an article by the BBC attracted.
There was no internal political will to enforce the Gender Equality Act to stop these traditions.
As a nation, there is no consensus on eradicating these harmful practices. This issue is never top of a national agenda as forces that ought to jointly fight this vice are pulling against each other. The government is not committed, the traditional leaders are playing double standards, the civil society efforts are competing and lack coordination and other stakeholders are completely clueless on their responsibilities.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare have failed to take systematic and practical steps to give effect to the Gender Equality Act.
They have failed to exert pressure on the traditional leaders and enforcement agencies to rally behind this agenda.
These institutions, though mandated by the Act, have failed to cultivate a social attitude and environment against these harmful traditions. Due to the lack of leadership from these institutions, the Act is merely symbolic and ineffective.
Most of the traditional leaders have been lying to the nation on this issue and we clap hands for them, yet they do not match their sayings with actions and reliable data.
Research evidence suggests that some of these leaders are promoters and beneficiaries of these toxic traditions.
We need to use such evidence to arrest these cultural gatekeepers over and above the Anivas.
Alternatively, the government should stop giving out honorariums to traditional leaders whose communities practise these toxic norms. This will be a strong civic education to the leaders on the seriousness of the matter.
Further, we seriously need to critique the existing civic education interventions, their content and delivery to address factors that perpetuate harmful practices.
Tradition is partly maintained through stories that the older generation passes to the younger one.
The Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity should cease being a spectator in this issue, but rise to amplify the stories of women affected by unwanted practices. Alternative narratives help change belief systems and stereotypes.
It is encouraging that the Civic Education Ministry is now being led by a human rights defender. I am hoping that he will maximise his experience in ensuring that the civic education content produced and delivered by his ministry is relevant to the prevailing social context.
The ministry must help create a moral ground where gender equality can thrive.
Political leaders from the top can help in ensuring the government consistently takes action on more ‘hyenas’ and their promoters, including traditional leaders.
The top leadership should set the tone and exert pressure for collective abandonment of harmful practices to secure the rights of women and girls. n