Picture this. You are a girl of less than 16 years old in Form One, who has passion for education and you are always in top-three in your class.
You return from school one day and you find your mother alongside with your grandmother summoning you into a closed hut.
There, she tells you to drop out of school and get married to one of the men who trek to South Africa because the man is rich.
You relax at hearing the news and you think it’s a dream. You shake yourself like a gulewamkulu dancer to assess whether it’s a fantasy or a fact. But a mother’s slap awakens you, so it’s not a dream.
You are now speechless for a moment, but after a thoughtful moment, like a hatching hen, you find yourself coming out of the hut all the way to your uncle to explain the ordeal.
There, you meet your uncle sitting on the verandah of his house. You explain everything to him, thinking he will remedy the situation, but wait a minute! He acts even worse than a Lucifer.
He chases you away, telling you to succumb to your mum’s order because the husband in question would transform the family.
You are in a dilemma, but you cannot give in—something that results into you being denied food, education support and sometimes a place to sleep.
The accompanying challenges forced forces you to abscond classes, to do piece works (ganyu) such as washing clothes at people’s homes and gardening to get money to buy basic needs.
You do these things for three months. Apart from ganyu being scarce, you got tired of the happenings. The sleeping of outside is another hell. You cannot bear it anymore.
This forces you to accept the situation and in no time you are married to the man.
The story above reads like a folktale, but this is exactly what happened to Fatima Daniweki four years ago.
Fatima, now 20 and a Form Four at Majuni Secondary School in Mangochi, is an example of a girl who underwent a barrage of abuses.
A young girl, who is from Idrusi Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Jalasi in Mangochi was ordered to get married to a South Africa trekker by her own mother, after the mother was lured by the man’s wealth.
“I vividly remember that it was a Tuesday, in 2016, when my mother summoned me in one of the huts at our home. When I entered there I found my grandmother, too. I was surprised because it was happening even before I had taken my late lunch, but I cooperated,” she said on Wednesday at Makawa Primary School during the launch of 16 Days against Gender- Based Violence (GBV).
Fatima said her grandmother minced no words. She told her that education would not take her anywhere and that marrying the man would land the family into a pond of wealth.
“I told them I couldn’t do that, but this did not go down well with my mother, who instantly released her hand and slapped me in the face. I tried to reason with them, but they swore, they would not relent until I got married,” she recalls.
Fatima said because of her passion for education, she protested vehemently to the marriage plan.
“But my decision made me experience a lot of troubles. Since I said no to their proposal, my mother disowned me. She denied me food, stopped giving me school fees, chased me from her house, including threatening to skin me alive if I continue denying the proposal,” revealed Fatima.
“It was a troublesome life. I could move from one house to the other searching for piece works (ganyu). On lucky days, I could make K300, but mostly I was just looking for something like K100 to help me buy zigumu and tea,” she said.
Fatima said on average, she went to school for two days and spent the other three days doing piece works.
“At school, my performance dwindled because the once simple exercises became tough. But I guess this could be the result of this nightmare. Imagine sleeping outside after toiling in people’s farms and you go to school, can you perform miracles? Obviously, no!” said Fatima while tears rolled down her cheeks.
“This is the reason I found myself giving in to the marriage proposal four months later,” disclosed Fatima, who, a year later gave birth to a daughter.
Life after getting marriage
At first, she revealed life was good, but things changed after she gave birth.
“My husband, who was 32 then, already had another woman. So, after we stayed for one year, he started battering me every time I asked for money for food. Life was a living hell. I was crying day and night, blaming it all on my mother,” she lamented.
She added that the husband told her
to leave his house and go to her parents.
“When I went to my parents and told them, they said I should persevere. However, looking at the way I was being beaten by my husband, the parents, too, regretted their action and took me back,” she said.
“When I moved into my parents’ house, the desire for education was re-ignited and, luckily, I found officials of Rights Advice Centre (RAC), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes people’s rights. After narrating my story, they offered to support me to go back to school,” she said.
Fatima, who wants to become a teacher, said this marked her journey to restart school in 2017.
“I must be honest, my fellow students, including teachers received me well. At school, I am one of the peer educators who encourages girls not to succumb to child marriages,” she said.
“Apart from school, the whole area also uses me to explain my story to adamant parents who also want to marry off their children. But with my involvement, the situation is
gradually changing,” she said.
But speaking during the launch of the 16 Days of GBV, NGO-GCN chairperson, Barbara Banda pledged NGOs’ commitment to embark on interventions against GBV.
“We are worried with the increase of abuses girls and women are encountering in the country just like Fatima. Such stories have adverse effects to the individual and to the country at large. Therefore, this launch will help us renew our commitment and provoke us to take decisive actions against anybody who abuses girls and women,” she explained.
To this end, Banda urged Malawians to join hands in the fight against GBV, saying the battle can be won if we put our hands together.
This’s year’s event was held under the theme: ‘End Gender- Based Violence: Prevent, Report, Respond, Fund’