A depressed-looking Grace Msungeni*, a resident of Mbayani in Malawiâ€™s commercial city, Blantyre, walked into Malawi Carer offices in the city to lodge a complaint of abuse she has suffered at the hands of her husband.
She wanted Malawi Carer to settle the matter peacefully with her husband. The husband, James Msungeni,* 39, has disappeared for the third time in three years. Grace, 30, a mother of two, claims she has lived a bitter life since she got married in a church wedding six years ago.
From her narration, Grace does all household chores alone without her husband who, even if is around, spends time selling house property besides depriving her of conjugal rights. Efforts by marriage counsellors to resolve their differences over the years have hit a blank wall.
â€œFor example, since October 17 2012 until now, my husband has disappeared. Raising children on my own is difficult because my small business does not yield required profits. His parents side with him each time I complain to them,â€ Grace says.
As she narrates her story, another woman walks in to complain of a similar case, the only difference being that the latterâ€™s husband does not support his children.
Sadly, it was clear from the two womenâ€™s explanations that they had no clue the issues they brought to Malawi Carer are related to gender based violence (GBV).
Human rights campaigners say such tendencies affect childrenâ€™s development, while women suffer emotional abuse which, they say, is the most common GBV in homes.
Abused women are likely to seek support from human rights NGOs such as Malawi Carer and police victim support units.
Findings by a Malawi Carer survey show that emotional abuse is the most reported of all cases, with the organisation registering 26 cases in 2010 and 29 last year.
According to the organisation, emotional abuse involves extra-marital affairs, failure to pay school fees for children or support oneâ€™s family, depriving one of conjugal rights and lack of communication between couples, among other things.
The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of GBV that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
Although police findings show that 19 000 rape cases were reported last year in the country, psychological and sexual violence remain second and third respectively to emotional abuse, according to their data.
â€œStudies have shown that some children exposed to violence between parents have more social, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and general health problems than children from families where there was no violence between partners,â€ says Linda Chinula-Zakazaka, programme officer at Malawi Carer.
Zakazaka says while other people assume that GBV is on the decline, human rights campaigners still receive many complaints of GBV than before because of massive civic education.
â€œWe are sensitising people to emotional abuse which most people do not know. It is unfortunate that men are not willing to report their abuse as they opt to suffer in silence,â€ says Zakazaka.
Malawi Carer ensures that the aggrieved parties mend their differences, but if they fail to do so, the concerned parties are at liberty to seek legal redress.
With 25 November being the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, some men have teamed up to deal with gender based violence against women.
â€œWe want to ensure that men take part in the campaign so that together, we fight gender based violence in homes,â€ said Grant Mugayi chairperson for Malawi Chapter on Men for Gender Equality Now (MGEN).
The 16 Days of Activism ends on 10 December which is the International Human Rights Day, and during this time there would be a highlight on 16 key facts such as intimate partner and sexual violence against women, violence against women and well-being of children.
Although there has been no plan to extend the 16 Days of Activism to be a yearlong campaign under the banner of 365 days of action regional event, the civil society and government have implemented GBV programmes throughout the year.
The Sadc Protocol Barometer 2012 for Malawi vindicates that although government has put in place legislation that deals with GBV, established GBV responses at all levels are on the increase because of inadequate budget support to the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare.
With calls pouring in on for more financial and human resource to reduce cases of GBV, Emma Kaliya one of the researchers of the Sadc Protocol Barometer 2012 stresses the need to step up sensitisation campaigns on GBVs that are not well understood such as sexual harassment and GBV against minorities.
*We can not disclose their actual names for confidentiality sake.