COIDA; Eradicating GBV in Mzimba

COIDA; Eradicating GBV in Mzimba

In Malaŵi, one in every three women between the age of 15 to 49 experiences sexual or physical violence at one time or the other, according to the National statistical office.

The violence ranges from women and girls being defiled, raped, or forced into early marriages by their immediate biological parents.

Mzimba district in the northern province of Malawi has not been spared from such malpractice.

In the district, women play second fiddle to men due to the Ngoni patrilineal culture.

According to the district social welfare office in Mzimba south, the district has seen a 100% surge in child marriages where most have been arranged by parents for material gains.

In 2019 for instance the district registered 280 early marriages and in 2020 over 500 marriages were recorded.

However, with the spotlight initiative being implemented in the district there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The spotlight initiative is a program that focuses on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls being supported by UNDP with finances from the European Union.

One of the organizations implementing the spotlight initiative in Mzimba district is Communities in Development Activities - COIDA.

Its Executive director Patrick Mwale agrees with the menace of gender-based violence in the district.

"These cases are quite rampant we have seen increased numbers of gender-based violence cases this year and last year.

" We've seen that most men seem to either have no knowledge of the law or either deliberately break the law whatever the case most men are freely committing these crimes," said Mwale.

Mwale says COIDA's interventions in the spotlight initiative aims to address discrepancies in data collection between various stakeholders championing the fight against GBV in the district.

"We have noticed that data collection is a challenge where figures on GBV cases at stakeholders like the police, the social welfare department, and other NGOs do not talk to each other," says Mwale.

He says COIDA is currently carrying out interventions that will ensure harmonization of such data.

"We are working with the police and other stakeholders in ensuring that we implement harmonized data collection tools in Mzimba," said Mwale.

This will paint a clear picture of the magnitude of such offenses.

Apart from this, the organization is involved in facilitating mobile court sessions where the court sits in areas where a case of a gender-based violence offense is held where it occurred.

"This is done to ensure that communities appreciate the various forms of gender-based violence and applicable punishments meted out by the courts.

"In so doing other people may learn and refrain from committing similar offenses," said Mwale.

However, prosecution of cases related to violence against women and girls is not easy according to Mwale.

He says this is due to gaps among police officers who do not have ample knowledge of child and gender-related laws.

"In our program, the police are critical because every case that they bring to court has to have a specific charge relevant to the offense one has committed so if the police are not conversant with these laws they end up charging a person with a case which eventually affects the effectiveness of the court in determining the relevant punishment of the offender," said Mwale.

Mzimba district gender officer Japheth Chirwa concurs with Mwale saying this is a minus in prosecution of cases where women or girls have been violated.

"Basically there is a great impact because of existing gaps on gender-related laws, you find that when the police execute their duties they don't put into consideration gender and child-related laws mainly our police rely on the penal code, while we work based on gender-related laws so it becomes a challenge when they take the cases to court," says Chirwa.

Mzimba police officer in charge Deputy commissioner of police Stain Chaima emphasizes the need for the men in uniform to be conversant with child and gender-related laws for them to ensure that perpetrators are given stiffer punishments in court.

"Issues concerning gender-based violence are rampant hence the need for our officers to be conversant with gender-related laws, this will help our officers investigate offenses properly that when the cases are brought to a court of law perpetrators must be given stiffer punishments," said Chaima.

Mercy Safalawo, Director of Gender Affairs Department in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare shares a similar view.

Safalawo says negative mindsets towards the rights of women and girls remain a challenge in the country

She says government with the help of other stakeholders like non-state actors will ensure that people understand that men and women are equal and that violence against women and girls is unacceptable.

Such sentiments are shared by the UN Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres.

Torres says the Spotlight Initiative addresses violence against women and girls from every possible angle and works to ensure that there are better laws and policies to aid key stakeholders tackle all forms of violence.

She says the Initiative is also working with the National Statistical Office to harmonize data collection on sexual and gender-based violence, and harmful practices.

"This will improve coherence, coordination, and effectiveness of efforts fighting sexual and gender-based violence, and harmful practices among different actors," says UN Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres.

Through the Spotlight Initiative in partnerships with other stakeholders, ps of women and girls are being transformed in the six targeted districts.

According to Torres in 2020 alone, the program supported close to 20,000 vulnerable women and girls to receive quality and essential services to support their recovery from violence and protect their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

"Based on community feedback, some of the program’s interventions are expected to be scaled up across all Traditional Authorities within the targeted districts," said Torres.

In addition to enabling a holistic approach to ending violence against women and girls, the Spotlight Initiative promotes Agenda 2030’s guiding principle of “leaving no one behind” and build on the momentum of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

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