Malawi — Access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence is improving in Malawi following implementation of the pilot phase of the Spotlight Initiative in two of the six target districts.
The Spotlight Initiative is a new global programme focused on eliminating violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) and harmful practices. In Malawi, the partnership involves the Government of Malawi, United Nations, European Union, civil society organizations and local communities.
The pilot phase of the initiative was implemented in Mzimba and Ntchisi between December 2018 and February this year, during which many survivors of GBV accessed justice. These activities were led by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
Mzimba District Gender Officer, Japhet Chirwa, said the start of the Spotlight Initiative in the district has seen authorities handling about 70 gender-based violence cases in three months, out of which over 50 cases were completed. In three of the completed cases, the perpetrators were punished by the courts, while in six other cases, girls who were married off early had their marriages annulled and they returned to school.
"One of the cases that went to court was [that of] a 53-year-old man who defiled a 14-year-old mentally challenged girl," said Chirwa. "Survivors of violence are able to access services because they now have information and support. The support includes transportation, food and medical services in the process of accessing justice."
Case reporting and referral have improved because communities are now more aware of their rights, the laws that protect them, and the available GBV and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, including those provided at community victim support units (CVSUs), he said. CVSUs are one stop-centres that offer much-needed assistance to adult and child survivors of crimes, especially GBV and child abuse, exploitation and neglect.
In the two districts, the Spotlight Initiative has led to the renovation of infrastructure and strengthened service delivery at some CVSUs. The renovation of Thondo Community Victim Support Unit, for instance, has also resulted in increased reporting of GBV cases and access to services and support, said Ntchisi District Commissioner, Peter Jimusole.
Teaming up to eliminate violence against women and girls
With the support of the Spotlight Initiative, Traditional Authority (TA) Thondo said that his subordinate chiefs and community groups have teamed up to eliminate violence against women and girls in his area.
"We are working together to scrutinize all our traditional practices and abolish the negative ones," said TA Thondo. "I have told my subjects that I will not hesitate to dethrone any chief who encourages harmful cultural practices in my area."
The government is committed to ensuring that violence against women and girls is eliminated, said Mercy Safalawo, Director of Gender Affairs Department in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.
"One of the obstacles to ending violence against women and girls is negative mindsets about the rights of women and girls," she said. "We will ensure that people understand that men and women are equal and that violence against women is unacceptable."
Ensuring women and girls enjoy their rights, better lives
UN Resident Coordinator, Maria Jose Torres, said the programme will continue forging and strengthening partnerships with all key stakeholders and communities to ensure women and girls enjoy their rights and live better lives.
"Ending violence against women requires a change in people's attitudes," said Ms. Torres. "To achieve this change, we cannot just engage girls and women alone. Boys and men also need to take part in having and encouraging positive attitudes towards women and girls."
Gender equality cannot be achieved without addressing gender-based violence, said Virginie Lafleur-Tighe, Team Leader for Social Sectors and Infrastructure at the Delegation of the European Union.
"If we don't attack gender-based violence, we will never manage to pull out of poverty," she said. "As long as women are not fully empowered to [achieve] their full potential, develop themselves and have their rights respected, there can't be any development."
She said the EU was pleased to see that the Spotlight Initiative is enabling people to openly describe practices that they do not want in their communities, as well as point at mechanisms that enable gender-based violence and traditions that are harmful to women and girls.
"When people are able to talk about this problem, this is when we can start finding solutions and ways of addressing the issues without destroying culture, without diminishing the role and importance of men, and without transforming this into a conflict that does not exist."
About the Spotlight Initiative in Malawi
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. Apart from Mzimba and Ntchisi, the Spotlight Initiative will also be implemented in Malawi's Nkhata Bay, Dowa, Machinga and Nsanje districts in phases. The first phase is for two years and a funding of €20 million has been granted.
In addition to enabling a holistic approach to ending 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), 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.
As a flagship programme under UN Reform, which promotes coherence of the UN System, the Spotlight Initiative Malawi Country Programme will see four UN agencies - UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF and UNDP - working together towards a common goal, in partnership with the government, the EU and Civil Society Organizations.
The programme is built around six inter-connected and mutually-reinforcing pillars focusing on laws and policies, institutions, prevention and social norms, services, data, and the women's rights movement - driving innovation and transformative programming to end violence.
- Phillip Pemba