Malawi: Creating Safe Spaces for Girls to Thrive in Malawi Under the Spotlight Initiative

Malawi — "I am happy to have been part of this landmark training," says Twambilile Kayuni, 28, Gender Programme Coordinator for Girls Empowerment Network (GENET). "It not only made me a trainer, but it also transformed me as a person."

"At first, I was eager to learn more about the Spotlight Initiative, like how to implement the activities, but when the training started it was beautiful to discover that not only were we to learn about the Safe Space Model, but that we would become trainers of trainers."

Led by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, the Safe Space Model training forms part of activities under the Spotlight Initiative being implemented by the United Nations, the Government of Malawi, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and other partners, with support from the European Union (EU). The model aims to increase the capacity of mentors on safe space mentoring, for greater uptake of sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services.

For the training, a safe space mentorship manual was developed to guide mentors in empowering adolescent girls and young women to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to prevent gender-based violence, including challenging harmful practices in communities.

Gain in knowledge and skills

With the skills she gained during the training, Ms. Kayuni is now able to identify gaps in their current programming, which the safe space model can address.

"We weren't specifically looking at the problems from a holistic approach as the safe space model does," she says. "But this model has key learnings, such as creating safe spaces for girls and creating girls' social networks. It also has an in-depth section on mentorship, which helped me transform from a community worker to a mentor."

Using the manual, the Spotlight Initiative in Malawi will train young female leaders as trainers of trainers in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender, leadership and life skills. The trainers will form a cadre of trainers and resource persons for the successful rolling out and implementation of the Safe Space Model. The trainers will identify and train mentors in targeted districts and support them to recruit adolescent girls and young women. Through this approach, an estimated 21,000 adolescents and young women are expected to be reached by the end of 2020.

Hope for the future for girls

Although Ms. Kayuni says they are yet to implement the Spotlight project, she anticipates achieving great things once they start effecting the model in the communities they work in.

"After we train the mentors in the community, I see them becoming a great inspiration for girls and role models for many," she says. "In addition, the safe spaces will be a powerful advocacy tool for girls to speak out and also to bring issues of harmful practices into the spotlight."

The mentors will play a pivotal role in guiding girls in their everyday life and inspire them to speak out and be who they want to be in life.

"The model covered so well how to involve community leaders, who are not only the opinion shapers but custodians of harmful cultural practices. If we engage them strategically, we can convince them to change and allow the girls to have the safe space we want them to have to grow and thrive," she said.

About the Spotlight Initiative in Malawi

In Malawi, the Spotlight Initiative 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. It targets Nkhata Bay, Mzimba, Ntchisi, Dowa, Machinga and Nsanje districts.

As a flagship programme under UN Reform, which promotes coherence of the UN System, the Spotlight Initiative Malawi Country Programme sees four UN agencies - UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF and UNDP - working together towards a common goal, in partnership with the Malawi government, the EU and Civil Society Organizations.

- Joseph Scott

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