GEWE changes life of Chikwawa communities

It is a thing of the past that women were looked down to in terms of various aspects of life ranging from job opportunities, decision making or even providing their homes other necessities in need.

Makande girls' hostel was rehabilitated through Gewe project
Makande girls’ hostel was rehabilitated through Gewe project
Women in Nsanje has benefited from Gewe project
Women in Nsanje has benefited from Gewe project

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Chikwawa office through Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) Project has made it possible that Chikwawa communities especially women enjoy equal rights just as men.

The project has helped women where they engaged themselves into groups to discuss issues of concern in their lives. Not only that, but also harmful cultural practices that in some communities were hindering girls to go further with education such as ‘kutsatsa fumbi, thena’ were stopped.

According to Chikwawa’s CCJP Diocesan Secretary, Lewis Msiyadungu GEWE project has assisted in developing women involvement in issues at the same time providing equal opportunities among women and men so that development at household level, community and the country as a whole must move forward.

Said Msiyadungu: “As Chikwawa CCJP we came in as one way of promoting human rights that are now equal especially in  areas we targeted. We also promoted civic education notifying communities on harmful cultural practices.”

He said throughout the project it was realized that other religious, cultural beliefs as well as poverty were believed to be forms of abuse especially to women adding there was still a long way to go as most people do not know how they would protect their rights.

“We have set up community structures such as community volunteers, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), local leaders, mother groups who have been imparted with various skills and them have gone around teaching people on their rights at the same time collecting cases that need legal address among communities especially women,” he said.

According to Msiyadungu, there are a number of achievements through the project to Chikwawa communities that have positive impact on their lives ranging from the rehabilitation of Makhwira court after several years of its non operational making people to travel more than 50 kilometers in order to access justice at Chikwawa Magistrate court.

At the same time, Nkhate area had a junior secondary school with little requirements and students especially girls had very difficulties to learn.

The project has also managed to provide one stop centre in Ngabu area at the same time Makande Community Day Secondary School was provided with girls’ hostels.

“Due to no hostels at Makande CDSS, most girls resorted to do self boarding around the school a thing that posed their life at risk. We then thought of rehabilitating the hostels there and a kitchen where now girls are within the school campus,” said Msiyadungu.

Jonasi Piseni, Secretary at Masekede Community Based Organization where GEWE project has worked with said the project has benefited a lot to the communities there citing men also had benefited because they had realized women were part and parcel in as far as developing their households was concerned.

Lewis Msiyadungu, Chikwawa CCJP Diocesean Secretary
Lewis Msiyadungu, Chikwawa CCJP Diocesean Secretary

Said Piseni: “Previously, men  in our area used to shun their wives to take part in various activities even doing businesses accusing them of falling inlove with other men. Girls too were forced to enter into early marriages resulting in dropping out of school. But now things have changed, women can do various businesses and girls have gone back in class after interventions made by GEWE project.”

Another woman, Lucia Chuma from Fambitsa CBO in the area of chief Ngabu commended GEWE project that it enhanced protection of girl child and children.

She said through the project, many girls were taken out from early marriages back to school and that women had opportunities to various businesses through VSL groups which were championed by GEWE project adding issues of child labour was a thing of the past.

“In addition to that, local leaders now have involved themselves in issues of Gender Based Violence; they have managed to conduct awareness meetings to communities on various issues like child protection, dangers of early marriages, and the impact of GBV issues to the communities.

As a CBO we have also managed to visits homes where we observed or told of the issues happening and we have helped sorting them or brought them to local leaders for a solution. Previously we had several cases where parents forced their girl children enter into early marriages than boys who were left to attend school throughout,” she said

Chuma said now when many young girls are going further with their education, there were no many cases of early marriages and that GBV issues were minimized instead women were taking part in decision making.

She however said there was a need for such interventions to reach to as many areas as possible so that many people could have also benefit with the interventions.

On her part, Elita Yobe, National Civic Education and Gender Coordinator at the Episcopal Conference of Malawi CCJP while commending the enactment of Marriage, Divorce and Family relations Act called on various stakeholders to take a leading role in disseminating what the concepts are all about.

She said it was sad to note that despite having all the laws put in place, still more many people especially women could not know their application.

“Gender Equality Act helps us to know how certain issues must be shared. I can give an example where sharing of responsibilities are taking place we are advised that a good number of women should at least hold certain positions as well,” she said.

She added that it was time for NGOs, government to make sure that the Acts or enacted laws do reach the people so that they understand what these laws are all about. The people themselves should also be aware of their powers so that they live responsible citizens.

Yobe further stressed that lack of education was a setback for most women in rural areas to understand their rights as well as exercise their powers.

“Let’s give the girl child a chance to attend school because if we do that and she knows how to read and write she will be able to participate at community level, given a responsibility at community level and when she grows people will know her interventions and can easily be given positions in various tasks in so doing she acts like a role model to her fellow girls.

If there are lower education standards among women then it becomes difficult whereby women are not considered in holding of positions not even on issues of economy. Financial dependency among women or business opportunities among them become a problem because they don’t understand the concepts,” added Yobe.

She said throughout their interventions in the district, it was observed that most young girls were dropping out of school adding it was time for such girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy to get back in class as the country’s laws allow that.

“As CCJP in Chikwawa through the GEWE project, we have managed to retain many girls into school and putting to mind that most of them do come from far away places, we rehabilitated a girls’ hostel at Makande CDSS an intervention we hope to keep girls in school.

In the two said areas of Ngabu and Makhuwira where GEWE project was implemented, we have managed to reduce dropout rate among girls and we hope to have many girls who dropped out of school coming back in class,” stated Yobe.

She called on women to concentrate on things that would help themselves saying: “Let’s not only wait for our husbands to provide us with basics at home. Let’s strive so that we become independent or join the Village Savings and Loan Groups so that we help contributing to the needs at household level.”

Eunice Mziza from Traditional Authority Chimombo in Nsanje said the coming in of GEWE project helped them as women to be recognized as in the past their husbands counted them out as they could not take part in any issues happening at household level as well as within their communities.

“Local leaders have understood negative impact the cultural beliefs ‘kulowa kufa’ contribute to one’s life among women. Girls have for time immemorial being forced out of school to get married for ‘Lobola’.

When our husbands died, their relatives used to grab all property and could be shared among themselves but now those are things of the past. Now we can do roofing which was considered men’s job as well as brick laying and we are taking part in various issues within our communities,” explained Mziza.

The European Union (EU) and United Nations Fund Population Agency (UNFPA) supported GEWE project in Chikwawa where for the period of three years since 2013 people of Traditional Authorities Ngabu and Makhwira have benefited through its interventions and the project is expected to end in May 2016.

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