Communities of group village head Kumbwani and sub-Traditional Authority Mkagula in Zomba were ignorant of womenâ€™s sexual and reproductive health rights.Today, the community is empowered with knowledge, thanks to Womenâ€™s Legal Resources Centre (Wolrec) for its sensitisation campaign.
Cases of gender-based violence were common and STA Mkagulaâ€™s court, together with the Police Victim Support Unit, used to preside over many cases of this nature almost every three days.
This affected development work at community level since in most marriages, women, who were mostly victims, would be unable to work as a result of gender violence.
The lack of respect for womenâ€™s rights also exposed the communities to HIV and Aids.
Now the trend has changed, following the implementation of various projects in the area by Wolrec.
The organisation has been training the communities in human rights, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health rights, HIV and Aids, and how the concepts are related.
Wolrecâ€™s projects officer Gift Mauluka said last Wednesday during orientation sessions for community-based educators (CBEs) at Sakata in the district that his organisation started the project with the aim of promoting sexual and reproductive health rights of women in Zomba Rural.
He said the project intended to enhance the capacity of women in the area in demanding their fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health rights by 2012 from twenty percent to sixty percent.
“It was deemed necessary to train the CBEs on all the concepts for different reasons. First, they were required to know that every human being, regardless of sex, colour, race or ethnicity, among other things, is born with entitlements that make life easier and enjoyable in form of human rights and that tampering with them is a violation that is punishable by law,” Mauluka said.
He added that the CBEs were trained with a greater emphasis on the right to be free from traditions and customs that violate rights, arguing there are rights to freedom, sexual violence, health, reproductive health and family planning.
One of the CBEs, Chanston Mereka, said the coming of Wolrec in the area has changed peopleâ€™s lives in many ways.
“We have been trained in how we can deal with issues of gender-based violence and dissemination of HIV and Aids messages, human rights, among others in our communities. Harmful cultural practices such as kulowa kufa or kuchotsa fumbi now belong to the past. The practices posed a health hazard in these times of HIV and Aids,” he said.
He added that the knowledge and skills of handling gender-based violence (GBV) cases by police personnel, more especially those from the VSU, has greatly improved since they started working with Wolrec.
Furthermore, it was said that the trainings helped the communities to recognise different human rights violations and claim their rights.