UNFPA regional director for east and southern Africa Dr Julita Onabanjo has dialled up the global agenda to ensure every girl learns until her dreams come true.
She started her week-long tour of Malawi yesterday in Dowa, where the United Nations population Fund and its partners are implementing the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against girls and women.
Onabanjo arrived through Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe on Sunday, a year after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi, Kenya.
During the Nairobi Summit, Malawi announced ambitious commitments to make sexual and reproductive health services youth-friendly and a part of essential supplies during emergencies.
However, the pledge has come into question following a surge in pregnancies and child marriages during a six-month break to roll back the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, the country registered 20 000 teenage pregnancies during the emergency school break between March and August. Dowa alone registered 95 pregnancies and 385 marriages involving girls aged below 18.
As Covid-19 keeps spreading, Onabanjo visited a village in Traditional Authority Dzoole in the district where no child marriage or teen pregnancy occurred during the emergency school break.
The locals attributed the feat to creation of a safe space where girls meet mentors to discuss
their rights, shared challenges, sexuality as well as dangers of early pregnancies and marriages.
During the visit, Onabanjo saluted community leaders and mentors for working hard to ensure the sister-to-sister intervention brings the desired change.
“Today, the spotlight is on Dzoole because these girls accepted the programme and they are working hard to make their lives better. I thank the chiefs for their leadership because we wouldn’t have this safe space if it were not for their commitment to create a better world for girls,” she said.
Onabanjo called for male involvement in eliminating gender inequalities in the fight against violations of rights of women and girls.
She stated: “The decisions men take affect women, so it’s important that they treat girls and women as equals.
“We want to hold hands together to make Malawi a better place for all—a Malawi without violence, teen pregnancies and child marriages.”
Chief Dzoole and village heads in the remote locality north of Lilongwe have enacted by-laws that prohibit child marriages and teen pregnancies.
According to Dowa district social welfare officer Jonathan Bonongwe, Spotlight Initiative partners in the district, which has recorded 127 cases of sexual violence and 19 incidents of physical abuse, has withdrawn 21 girls from child marriages.
Malawi is one of eight African countries implementing the Spotlight Initiative with funding from the European Union (EU). Other participants include Uganda, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
EU head of delegation Ivo Hoefkens said the Spotlight Initiative is one of their flagship programmes in the fight against gender-based violence.
He said: “Ending child marriage and teen pregnancies is something that we find very important alongside the United Nations in the region.”
On Tuesday, Onabanjo is expected to meet Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda to launch the National ICPD steering committee as well as Minister of Youth and Sports Ulemu Msungama and First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Madalitso Kazombo