Communities in Senior Chief Nthondo in Ntchisi have expressed optimism that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) will soon be history following the construction of a Community Victim Support Unit (CVSU) in the area.
The United Nations (UN) has constructed the unit under the Spotlight Initiative Project, which receives funding from the European Union (EU) and is being implemented in partnership with the Malawi Government and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
The project is aimed at eliminating violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices in six selected districts across the country.
Under the pilot phase of the Spotlight Initiative, women and girls have been empowered to report any form of violence perpetrated against them and seek necessary help where it is needed.
The initiative will support targeted large-scale investments aimed at achieving significant impact in the lives of women and girls in six districts in Malawi.
And speaking when heads of UN agencies in Malawi toured Nthondo CVSU on Wednesday, one of the facility's committee members, Gift Lumbalo, said the unit has already settled over 40 GBV cases since becoming operational late last year.
Lumbalo cited women being denied job and business opportunities by their husbands as some of the injustices women face in the area.
"Others are about women and girls having been raped and underage girls defiled and denied education. There have been also complaints regarding men and boys denying responsibility after imprignating girls. However, it is encouraging that these cases are now declining because of increased awareness of women rights and the coming of the victim support unit where, we, the volunteers, are working very hard to end violence against women and girls," said Lumbalo.
He added that the CVSU is equipped with enough chairs, cooking utensils and other relevant amenities to accord the victims a friendly and conducive environment while volunteers work with the police, medical personnel and other stakeholders to find solutions to their problems.
Jennifer Chinjedza and Judith Banda, both victims of GBV, concurred with Lumbalo, adding that there is also need for deliberate measures to educate the girl child and look after those who are orphans.
The UN Resident Coordinator in Malawi, Maria Jose Torres, said she was impressed that one of the first chosen communities in the country had set the right pace in the implementation of the Spotlight Initiative.
"It is indeed encouraging that all of us can really get to action and also involve our traditional leaders in making sure that the women and the girls and men who are affected by GBV can have much better lives in their communities. The project will succeed with the involvement and full participation of the women and the girls themselves. We are with them so that they have to take the lead. There is nothing that will change for the better without their participation," she said.
Torres also noted that the Spotlight Initiative has come to put conciousness on those practices that may not be helping the girls and the women to be full members of society and enjoy economic rights or their right to participate.
And in her remarks, Charge de Affairs for the EU Delegation to Malawi, Virginie Lafleur Tighe, observed that the programme is very important, saying gender inequality is one of the factors letting this country down because many women are not empowered.
"I am encouraged by the testimonies here. The people are talking about real problems. They are describing practices that they do not want to see perpetrated and suggesting mechanisms that can stop such practices. This is the start of finding solutions to addressing the issues without destroying the culture, undermining the role of men and transforming this into a conflict that does not exist," said Tighe.
In addition to enabling a holistic approach to end violence against women and girls, the Spotlight Initiative will promote Agenda 2030's guiding principle of "leaving no one behind" and build on the momentum of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) efforts especially Goal 5 on gender equality and women's empowerment.
Critically, the initiative includes a comprehensive prevention strategy that addresses structural issues and linkages to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and HIV and AIDS.
Malawi is among 13 countries globally and eight countries in Africa selected to receive part of the global grant of €500 million from the EU to implement the Spotlight Initiative.
The other seven African countries are: Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
In Malawi, the initiative will be implemented in Nkhata Bay, Mzimba, Ntchisi, Dowa, Machinga and Nsanje districts in phases.
The first phase is for two years and a funding of €20 million has been granted.