First hand insight into female demoralisation through diminished Human Rights
Blog’s purpose – building our research study for the needed improvement for female rights in Malawi.
The despair and brutality of the country is utterly scraping
Malawi Quick facts
- Population of 14 million, one of the most densely populated countries in the world
- 80% of these people live in rural areas
- 42% of the population live below the poverty line • 1.3 million children are orphaned
- Nearly 30% of children are engaged in child labour
- Just over 50% of children are married before they are 18 years old
- Malawi is one of the poorest of the lesser-developed countries in theworld, ranking 153 out of 169 countries on the Human Development Index (2010).
Source: Every Child Malawi
It is difficult knowing where to begin to analyse a system that appears to only really be present on paper and not in practice. I have therefore found myself trying to contextualize the inequality by looking at the flow of change from the pre-colonial to the present era. I want to address the development and equality for women’s rights stimulated by experiences that we have come across in the rural villages of Malawi.
Developmental work is challenging enough with policy and government restrictions alone, but all too often non-fulfillment of projects and community development is hinged on the rights of women being so crippled and handicapped by a learned behavior. It really begins to boggle the mind to think what little chance of sustainability is present when the women you are working with are often repetitively stripped of their rights.
I can see why and how it happens; when something is so deeply embedded into your culture that it’s innate, compounded by living in a peaceful country whereby the question of choice or debate is scarce, when the opportunity of expression and choice for your sex is disregarded. Sadly the situation is such that girls often experience abuse at a young age and so why would they begin to question it in their adult life when they have already dealt with and accepted it as the norm in their childhood. Rather it should be that the question we need to ask ourselves is why should it be this way? Why should they have to ‘deal’ with neglect and abuse from a young age? Why has the support not been there to prevent the situation and not to provide damage control of the effects? Is it not our duty as humans to ensure all other humans have fair and equal rights?
The more time we spend in Malawi the more inequality we witness between men and women, girls and boys. Basic human rights are there at a level that I would interpret only as catastrophic – The disempowerment of women has been exemplified through many of our projects that you can read as add-ons below (and are what brought me to write this).
Empowerment of women is an ongoing struggle across Malawi and as a consequence of the constant expectations, work and demands placed on them, women refer to themselves as ‘human vessels for reproduction and following orders from their commanders; as and when they desire’. It’s clear that they lack in self worth within many aspects of their life; despite the fact that they are recorded to comprise 52% of the population. By no means are they given equal prosperity or opportunity through education, resources or financial assets. Again their disadvantage is reflected within HIV statistics as women are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to men; across all age groups there is a higher rate of HIV prevalence amongst women than men. Around 60% of adults living with HIV in Malawi are female and this is likely linked to their marriages and lack of choice in husband, if and when they would like to have children and to whether they are allowed to take the medication that they need to control the virus.
The opportunity to hear a woman’s voice in the matter should be present to enlighten and subsequently highly impact the future development of her country. If they were to be given this it is imagined that prosperity and opportunity would emerge – greater economic productivity, improved child nutrition and education would inevitably blossom. If we are to really think about it, a mother is the sole educator for their children until they are around 4 years old. School enrolment statistics show 78.5% of children enrolled by aged 7, then increasing to 90% for children ages 10-12. Unfortunately the enrolment rate rapidly depletes from 14 years onwards. If a mother is uneducated what example and support are they going to be able to offer to their children as they progress through school and their learning development?
Malawi’s attempt of liberalization and to reform the education system (in 1990) can be split into three phases; pre-colonial era, colonial era and the era of independence. This has lead to varying consequence’s and profound inequality to its people. From glancing at Malawi’s socio- economic history it is clear that it leans heavily towards damage caused by colonialists. Malawi’s new and current ambitious program to deliver education to all (ref 1) has increased participation both within the government education system and within the private education system in its desperate hope to restore the profound inequality and give access to learning for all. Regardless of this latest reform education inequality is still shown to be present through multivariate analysis (ref 2). Positively; 6 year old girls are 4% more likely to be enrolled in education than boys, however by the age of 14 girls are 30% less likely to still be in education.
I strongly believe that education and empowerment are tightly intertwined. That because of this women and girls are put at a significant risk of abuse and loss of opportunity through lack of education and rights.
In parts of Malawi, when a girl reaches puberty she may receive a night-time visit from an older man – known as “a hyena” – who has sex with girls to prepare them for marriage’.
Malawi country director of development, Brussels Mughogho from the charity EveryChild, feels that poverty pushes some families to marry off young daughters in exchange for a dowry payment or reduced costs of living by having one less mouth to feed. Mughogho goes on to explain that to make a real impact it’s vital to work with traditional leaders to end early sexual initiations which fuel child marriage and that these will not end without support from government legislation; that they need to be working from grass root level.
This is a very important step that we’ve taken, but child marriage will never end with legal instruments alone.
Child marriage is deeply entrenched within Malawi’s society, in addition to the reasons outlined above it is also partly down to the belief that a girl should marry as early as possible in order to maximize fertility. Personally I think this is ridiculous – It’s completely handicapping progressional development, removing the right to education, self- mindfulness and diminishing any self empowerment that may remain. It is our duty to work with these women, to inspire and empower them through prosperous opportunities.
Violence against children cuts across every sector and thread of society. It knows no boundaries and does not respect any laws. Violence occurs in homes, schools and streets, in care and detention centres. Perpetrators often include parents, family members, teachers, caretakers, law enforcement authorities and even other children. Some children are particularly vulnerable because of gender, race, ethnic origin, disability or social status. (UN Study on Violence against Children, 2006)
The cultural norms need to addressed, changed and ultimately really believed and trusted within both the public and private sectors; the deeply embedded cultural norms need to be shaken and restored to maintain basic human rights, particularly for girls and women. The Third Development Goals (The world bank’s strategic plan to increase and equalise rights) have been addressing the need for equality of rights to try and achieve this. Despite the triumph of legally reducing the lower limit of marriage age in Malawian girls form 15 to 18 with parental consent, it appears that little movement on the issue is to been seen as of yet – the fact is that almost half of the female population are married, some are still as young as 9 years of age. There has been little to no development within the Child Protection system, and little attention to the fact that its required to be with parental consent – again this is not freedom of choice, this is dictatorship and inequality, operating outside of the new laws.
Work in the areas of child protection, female empowerment and community must begin to be more visible and true to the vision of equality. Activity in these areas will be followed up and reported on during my next trip in July.
Remember, education is the key to change and it must be equal; we must represent what we believe.
What made me write this?
On a personal note, this is something that outrages me; I feel a burning in my depths at such a barbaric statement of current situations. These are my early days of blogging / expressing my opinion, and I feel its a fragile subject as the internet is expanding at a rapid rate, I often think ‘would I like my personal story shared in a blog, especially involving something so immoral, sensitive and potentially shameful’ The answer would be no, however I have spoken with the father of the victim in the story below and he is happy for me to express this in order to raise awareness.
Women’s rights on a micro loan program:
Through a micro loan business plan, a woman and her husband were given a bread oven to feed and provide for 7 foster children they were keen to look after. To his right, the husband also had two other wives in surrounding villages, to which she had no kind of objection. The husband began stealing the profits from the hard work and dedication of this wife to provide for his others. Without discussion or agreement and what would appear to have been no reflection of the negative connotations of his actions or the impact that it will have on the children, he proceeded to run the family vision into the ground. The wife was left with no money from the bread to feed herself or the foster children. This resulted in our sponsored lady falling silent and submissive, she was disempowered. She felt she had no right to argue with his immoral taking of profits or that she would be believed or listened to if she did. There is a clear example of diminished power shown within this project.
Through working in Malawi for over 7 years now I have made it my home; I have been adopted into a loving family and home within the community, I share my days and nights with Malawian natives that I love just as my own. I have become very comfortable – so comfortable that I sometimes cannot see what is happening right before me. This is the second instance that I have experienced of this scenario and I’m sure all who are reading this will agree – IT IS JUST NOT EXCUSABLE TO HAVE SEX WITH A CHILD – I don’t care for your words of justification, if they are based on culture, religious or spiritual views. We all have a duty to nurture a child and keep them safe, its our responsibility to ensure that this innocent child is given the greatest head start in life, through being loved and cared for, by treating them like they are precious and important, to protect them and their innocence.
Someone close to us in Malawi who shares the same views has a beautiful daughter and has been implementing these shared morals for her daughter’s seven years of life. This was taken from her, taken from her in her own garden by her own mother’s brother. With no shame, with no justification, she was raped and left to deal with the consequences on her own because it’s so accepted as what happens.
The first experience was even less understandable than that above, if possible. A professor who lectured in the Uk and the states let us ’squat’ in his unfinished house for very little rent – we lived there for 2 months during one of the earlier years of the foundation. Each night the guard’s son, a 14 year old boy, would be crying when he was sent to bed. At first we just thought it was because he didn’t want to go to bed, a usual occurrence in our developed world. After a few weeks of this I asked Mercy (my late Malawian Mum) if she could have a chat with him, perhaps on his way home from school to see if he was OK. Mercy spoke with him and it came out that he was being raped 3-4 nights a week by his uncle. When I told the professor his only reply was ‘How dare you interfere with the ways that Malawians raise their children’ and that it was the parent’s right to ensure that the child would perform and be ready for marriage. It makes me sick to my stomach to see an educated and well- traveled professor speaking with this ill tongue. We decided to report it to the police who then said ‘You need to report it at the time when you found out, not a day later’ and that because a professor was involved they could take this no further. You must also think, if the man was prosecuted, then his family of 8 would be in a great deal of deprivation because the uncle was the breadwinner. And so it then becomes a very tricky situation to intervene, do you really insist that someone takes this case seriously resulting in it being exemplified (despite no police interest) and leave the family potentially with no money / security?