This week, being Gender Based Violence (GBV) awareness week, we’ve been working to promote the issue here in Malawi. I’m sickened by some of the facts I’ve found. It’s a global issue but the stats that show, how much women here suffer are shocking! From my short time here, being a ‘Mzungu’ in particular, I’ve experienced attacks on my personal space and a lot of verbal abuse and shouting from boys and men; many of which are drunks that can be found spilling out of the local bars at any time throughout the day. Being from the UK this is not behaviour that I am used to, accept or tolerate in the slightest but unfortunately, here in Malawi, the majority of men don’t seem have a lot of respect for women. Its appears to be a cultural norm for men to belittle women, with most girls experiencing some form of unwanted male attention, with the tag line “she’s asking for it”.
Most cases of GBV happen in the rural areas and villages, with the northern region (including Mzuzu where I’m staying) statistically being the worse. Here are some shocking facts from the northern region: 30% of women aged 15-49 admitted to having been hit, slapped or kicked by a male at some point in their lives, 32% of girls aged 15-49 answered yes to having been forced into sexual intercourse at some point in their lives, with 15 % reporting that their first sexual experience was forced against their will, 10% of girl’s aged 15-19 admitted that during pregnancy they suffered violent physical attacks, many of whom who were living in forced marriages, 22% of married women stated that they’ve experienced physical abuse by their partners, with 19% admitting to suffering from sexual violence, and 25% admitting to have experienced emotional violence from their spouses.
The thing I find most upsetting is the accepting attitude of both men and women towards GBV and the general “shrug of the shoulders” from both sexes. The shouts and jeering that I often get on my walk home from work is met with laughter from other women, not a female reaction that could be expected back in the UK. In a recent study, 26% of women aged 15–49 agreed that the acceptable consequences of at least one of the following scenarios was punishment: If she burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children, or refuses to have sexual intercourse with him. However, when men were asked the same question, just 8% agreed that punishment should be allowed. It is as if these women, so caught up in their surroundings and cultural beliefs, are being brainwashed into thinking that this type of behaviour is normal, as if burning the dinner really is a crime worthy of violent punishment. This often appears to be the case, with more women agreeing that they deserve the beatings and that rape was her fault not the man’s. This week, as well as raising awareness on GBV, we need to start to help and empower these women to stand up for themselves, to show them that such behaviour is not acceptable and under no circumstances do they deserve it!
The following images were taken in locations around Mzuzu, asking girls and women we met to play dead while the rest of the world acted as the silent witnesses to such horrible crimes.
Written by ICS volunteer Ellie Craven-Todd