Singasiyedye Solomon is an elderly woman who is in her late 50s and the experience she faced in the hands of an angry mob after she was accused of witchcraft is a heartrending saga she will never forget. Singasiyedye was severely beaten and her house was demolished and torched on 12th July, 2015 in Saleya Village in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngokwe in Machinga District.
Witchcraft Based Violence (WBV) towards the alleged witches or wizards has reached alarming levels in many parts of Malawi. Statistics indicate that, in 2010 alone, nearly 90 people were imprisoned. Although the birth of multiparty democracy in Malawi in 1994 and the subsequent drafting of the constitution of the Republic of Malawi sparked an interest in children’s and women’s rights, Women and children are subjected to all sorts of violence and abuses. Victims of WBV are mainly women, children and the elderly and consequently, these groups are easily accused and treated harshly.
The Witchcraft Act forbids any trial by an ordeal that involves poison, fire, boiling water, or … any ordeal which directly or indirectly results in the death of or bodily injury to any person. The law also forbids accusing anyone of witchcraft or practicing witchcraft, employing a witch finder to identify the perpetrator of any alleged crime or other act complained of, and representing oneself as a wizard or witch or as having or practicing witchcraft.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which Malawi is a signatory recommends states to challenge traditional views about older women and witchcraft and calls on states to investigate the torture and killing of suspected witches and prosecute the perpetrators.
Singasiyedye was surprised to see communities scolding, beating and pushing her around. She was also shocked to see her house and all her property being destroyed and burnt.
According to a certain lady from the village, one community member had been ill for quite some time and the family of the sick person approached a witchdoctor from Umbwa village in the same District of Machinga. The witch doctor identified four people who allegedly appeared on a “mirror” and among the four only one was a young man but the rest were the elderly.
A few days later, the man who had been sick died and this evoked the anger of other villagers who resorted to violence. Surprisingly, out of the four who were identified, only Singasiyedye was chastised by the angry mod.
The action that was taken by the angry community members was a violation of her fundamental human rights. The destroyed property includes two push bicycles, four bags of maize, one bag of rice, clothes and all her kitchen utensils. To make matters worse, the day before the saga, Singasiyedye had accessed a loan of MK 24, 000 from Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). The money that was meant to boost her business of selling fish was burnt together with the aforementioned items.
Singasiyedye was about to suffer in silence like many victims of WBV in Malawi for fear of community reprisals as well as the long distance to a nearest police station and health centre. Thanks to a Community Based Educator and District Paralegal Officer who provided counsel to the victim and her relatives to sue the culprits. The victim and family members were not aware that it was a crime to accuse someone of witchcraft.
As a result of the guidance, the victim accessed health services and her condition has improved she is able to eat and sit though with difficulties and five people were arrested and incarcerated at Nselema Police Unit. The arrests have greatly helped to raise awareness levels of people in the community.
Nine years after female condoms
(FC2) were introduced in Malawi; they were not being utilized as envisioned. According to 2013 Ministry of Health Reproductive Health Unit Report, the uptake of female condoms in Malawi has stagnated to only one million pieces annually. In Balaka district, Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) was able to distribute an average of 3000 pieces per annum for the past years.
However, the female condom is the only available female initiated method that provides multiple protection against a wide range of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV and unintended pregnancies. As this is not enough, Female condoms also increase the level of women’s empowerment.
What could have delayed their best utilization to meet the unmet prevention needs? Was it because female condoms were not rolled out under a robust Information Education and Communication strategy? or potential users did not prefer using it? Or was it because of power relations between men and women including the relative social and economic status.
In Balaka District where a reasonable number of people are not well-educated, cultural and superstitious thinking dominates; there is a negative perception towards the female condom among men and women.
YONECO currently is sustaining some project activities for female condom Education Project which was embarked in April, 2014. The sustained project activities contribute towards increased demand, access and use of female condoms by both male and female sexually active groups.
To achieve this, YONECO has established community structures and trained female condom champions in 12 health centres across the district. The Champions engage women, men and the youth in smaller and larger groups and use formats such as education sessions, community dialogue sessions.
With the interventions mentioned above, YONECO in Balaka District has managed to successfully distribute 29,594 Female condoms within 9 months (from April to December 2014). This means, on average, YONECO was able to distribute 3, 288 per month which not long ago was the total number of pieces distributed annually.
Rhoda Siyabu (18) is the first born in a family of six and she sadly got impregnated when she was only 14 and she was in Form 2 of her secondary school studies. Four years after the incident, she is failing to go back to school because her parents cannot afford to pay for her tuition fees.
Her story is among many sad stories that illustrate the hardships and challenges that many adolescent girls face in Malawi mainly due to a number of factors that include the lack of information on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH).
For over 15 years, Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) has been very active in the promotion and enhancement of the lives of adolescent girls and women in Malawi. Thus, Rhoda narrated her reminiscence during a monitoring visit that was conducted by YONECO in one of its initiatives that are aimed at supporting teen mothers in the Reaching the Hard to Reach Project. The visit was conducted in February, 2014 at Kanzingeni village, Group Village Headman Dzoole in the area of Traditional Authority Kwataine in Ntcheu district.
Rhoda stated that when her parents realised that she was pregnant some four years ago,they forced her to marry the boy who impregnated her. This meant the boy also had to drop out of school as both of them were still students at Dawe Community Day Secondary School and the boy was in Form 3. Nine months later, Rhoda gave birth to a baby girl through a cesarean method because she was too young to give birth and she recounted it as a very bad experience in her life.
Her marriage to the father of her daughter was typical of a forced child marriage and there was no happiness from the word go and she described it as a nightmare. Rhoda said her husband did not even buy any cloth for the child and life became very miserable for her.
In March last year, Rhoda decided to call it quits and left her matrimonial house for her home village after getting tired of her so called husband. After some weeks, the boy went to her home seeking a marriage reunion and promising that things will be okay and rosy.
No sooner had they reached their matrimonial home than the man was back in his malevolent usual self. Rhoda said that the man was even worse than before. He neither provided food nor any kind of support to his family. The man also reached the point of not sleeping in his matrimonial house for some days.
As of now, the man is a bicycle taxi operator in Ntcheu district and Rhoda is back in her home village and she said she has no wish to go back to him. Rhoda said if there is anywhere else where she would like to go back to, then it is to school.
Rhoda was among several teen mothers who were trained by YONECO on SRH and Facilitation of Life Skills Sessions to their peers in December 2013. Since January 2014, she has managed to distribute 100 female condoms and 200 male condoms to her fellow girls. Apart from that, she has also established a Teen Mothers Group that has a total of 13 members. The group meets every Wednesday for a forum where they discuss and conduct a number of activities including sessions on HIV/ AIDS prevention and treatment, family planning, STIs and the group also has a component of VSL within its activities. In addition, Rhoda said the group also encourages one another on the importance of going back to school and so far three teen mothers from the group are intending to go back to school in the next academic term.
“I would like to express my gratitude to YONECO for the training they organized in December, last year, on Teen Mothers in SRH and Life Skills Facilitation. The training helped me as well as other young girls a lot to make informed decisions and choices.
As a facilitator, I always advise my fellow adolescent girls to abstain from sex and that if they fail to abstain then they should make sure that they are using contraceptives. I also distribute condoms to them as I do not want them to fall into a similar pit like the one I fell into four years ago” says Rhoda.
As of now, Rhoda says she badly wants to go back to school but the challenge is that her parents cannot manage to pay for her tuition. This is the case because two of her siblings have also reached secondary school and their tuition fees are heavily draining the already meager resources of her father.
“My parents cannot afford to pay me school fees because they are already paying for my two siblings at Dawe CDSS. My father is a Watchman and the salary he gets is not enough to pay tuition for the three of us. Maybe I had my chance but I screwed it up,” said Rhoda.
Currently, YONECO in its innovative approaches to promote and enhance the lives of young people in Malawi has been using the SMS system to disseminate and moderate information concerning SRH to the youth. The organisation has also embarked on using the blog in order to reach out to as many young people as possible.
n 14 March, 2017; Mangochi district was electrified by the visit of an Ethiopian delegation that came to Malawi on a learning and sharing visit on finding workable means of ending child marriage in the two countries.
Mangochi is among the epicenters of the child marriage scourge in
Malawi and various interventions are currently being implemented to deal with the problem.
As a member of the More than Brides (MTB) Alliance in Malawi, YONECO was requested to host the visitors in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Makanjira in Mangochi where the organization is implementing various interventions under the MTB Programme. Among other things, a number of girls who were withdrawn from forced child marriages in the area attested how the ending child marriage programme (MTB) in Malawi played a role in nullifying the marriages they were forced into. The girls indicated that their marriages increased their vulnerabilities and exposed them to various challenges including Bender Based Violence (GBV).
Various chiefs from the area acknowledged how various trainings which YONECO conducted helped them to understand the dangers of marrying off young girls. Furthermore, traditional leaders also stated that they have been enlightened by various workshops which YONECO held. It was further added that the current trend is that no marriage is officiated by religious leaders without approval from the chiefs who do a proper screening of the ones getting married to verify if they are indeed above the legal marriage age of 18. It was stated that most people in rural parts of Mangochi district do not have birth certificates hence parents lied about the age of their children to simply marry them off.
The Malawi More than Brides (MTB) Alliance is tirelessly working in the fight against child marriage which is being spearheaded by the Malawi government through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare. The programme is being implemented with support from the Dutch Government through Simavi. Apart from YONECO, other partners in the MTB consortium are; Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) and Save the Children International Malawi which plays a supervisory role as well as providing technical support.
Among other areas, the Ethiopian delegation is also expected to visit other parts of the country including the area of Senior Chief Kachindamoto’s area in Dedza.
During a conference that was held on 27 November, 2015 in Lusaka, Zambia; African Leaders resolved to end child marriage in the continent. The visit by the Ethiopian delegates from Finote Hiwot further vindicates how governments and other institutions are working towards abolishing child marriage in Africa.
YONECO Head Office in Zomba hosted senior staff members from one of its strong partners, Christian Aid.
The delegation comprised of Paul Valentine, the Director for International Affairs for Christian Aid; Sally Foster-Fulton who is the Head of Christian Aid in Scotland; and Pansi Katenga, Christian Aid Country Manager
in Malawi and other senior staff members from Christian Aid country office.
During the visit, the high powered delegation in the company of YONECO’s Executive Director, Mac Bain Mkandawire, toured various structures that are within YONECO Head Office. The delegates firstly went to YONECO IT Centre where real-time data entry for Toll Free Helpline services is managed. The centre is also responsible for the development of internet-based socioeconomic development tools for enhancing the rights and welfare of the youth, women and children.
The visitors also toured YONECO Helpline Services Centre which, among other things; handles walk-in clients as well as others who seek support through its three toll-free lines namely; 116 – Child Helpline, 5600 – GBV Crisis Line as well as 6600 which is a Drug and Substance Hotline.
Finally, the delegates were taken to YONECO FM where they interacted with the Chief Producer, Rodrick Mwale. In the studios; Mwale briefed the delegates on the programming and operations of the radio station which has a nationwide coverage.
Currently, YONECO is implementing a Project called Investing for Impact against HIV and TB. The project is being implemented in various parts of the country with funding by Global Fund through Action Aid and Christian Aid. I addition to this project, YONECO, with support from Global Fund through Action Aid and Christian Aid, is also implementing another project in Mulanje district which is being aimed at reducing the spread of HIV among girls and young women.
In its untiring efforts of ensuring that Tithandizane Helpline Counsellors are providing effective and high standards of service delivery
to its clients including beneficiaries of humanitarian food items in various parts of the country, YONECO with support from the World Food Programme (WFP) conducted a debriefing session for the Tithandizane Helpline counsellors.
The session that was held from 15 to 16 is expected to yield positive outcomes as the counsellors were further drilled in counselling skills to enable them to avoid burn-out as well as receive and give feedback in accordance to a prescribed framework. The activity also enabled the counsellors to share and learn a number of issues as well as giving them an opportunity to recuperate.
As the country is facing acute food shortage that has affected many households, WFP and other partners have embarked on massive food exercise to the affected communities throughout Malawi.
With support from WFP, YONECO through its helpline Services is implementing interventions that are aimed at promoting transparency and accountability by providing mechanisms for getting beneficiary complaints and feedback in the humanitarian food assistance.
The initiative is aimed at ensuring that the process is credible and that the targeted beneficiaries are receiving the food items form the various distribution points that have been set up in various parts of the country. The initiative has been intensified after it was noted that during the 2015 disasters in Malawi, distribution of relief items was characterised by corruption, nepotism and Gender Based Violence (GBV) whereby some men were enticing women and girls to sleep with them in exchange for the free items.
The session which is currently being conducted at Naming’azi Training Centre is being facilitated by the Executive Director for YONECO, Mac Bain Mkandawire, as well as Benson Nkhoma Somba from Galaxy Media Consultants.