Malawi: Reporting gender-based violence saves breaking marriages

| November 24, 2023

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Daniel Banda faced a troubled marriage marked by his reckless behaviour, including excessive drinking and womanizing, leading to physical and verbal abuse towards his wife, Malifa. Despite repeated attempts at reconciliation through counselling, Mrs. Banda eventually sought a divorce. The court warned Mr. Banda of potential arrest if his abusive behaviour persisted. Realizing the severity of the situation, he reformed his habits, quitting drugs and reducing alcohol intake. Witnessing his positive changes, Mrs. Banda withdrew the divorce case. Agness Napwanga, a gender officer, emphasizes the need for victims to seek help rather than tolerating abuse. The government has established one-stop centres in some hospitals to aid in the reporting and treatment of gender-based violence.

Daniel Banda spent many sleepless nights thinking about his divorce case, which was in the court for weeks. But Mr. Banda says his stress ended when his wife, Malifa, ran into the room one day to say that the bath water was ready for him—adding “Guess what? I have a gift for you.”

Mrs. Banda then handed her husband a court document withdrawing her case for divorce. In disbelief, Mr. Banda broke into joyful tears. He stood up and hugged his wife. After a moment of silence, he looked into her eyes and said, “My love, I have learnt a big lesson. I promise that I will never beat or swear at you, whether I am sober or intoxicated.”

Mr. Banda says he had been drinking beer recklessly and womanizing from time to time, and that this behaviour almost cost his marriage. When he was drunk, he became violent, beating and strongly criticizing his wife. He says they were always fighting and that he told her to leave the house—and to leave him because he didn’t love her. Their marriage was on the verge of collapse.

He adds: “My wife had been complaining about my behaviour for so long. We had been discussing the matter with marriage counsellors countless times. I would stop this behaviour for a while, but later start again.”

Mrs. Banda was tired of the physical and verbal violence from her husband.

She says: “On numerous occasions, I left him by going back to my parents’ home, carrying with me some of the house utensils. But after a few days, he was always coming back to apologize with his marriage counsellors.”

She adds: “Sometimes, when his marriage counsellors refused to help him apologize because they got tired, we used to reconcile over the phone, and I would go back to him.”

Then Mrs. Banda decided to formally divorce her husband by taking the case to magistrate court. She says that he pleaded with the court to allow the situation to be settled outside of court because he loved her and wasn’t ready to divorce her.

The court warned Mr. Banda that if he continued his abusive behaviour, he would be arrested. Since then, Mr. Banda says he has stopped abusing drugs and drinking beer excessively. After seeing the improvement in her husband’s behaviour, Mrs. Banda withdrew the divorce case. 

Agness Napwanga is the gender officer for the Blantyre District Council. She says that many families who are experiencing problems related to gender-based violence make the mistake of tolerating it without reporting it to the police or the court.

She adds: “Their ordeal keeps on re-occurring, and they become used [to it] until some of them have fatal and permanent injuries. This sometimes happens because some of them do not know where to report gender-based violence.” 

Ms. Napwanga says that gender-based violence such as fights, beating, and rape are criminal cases that should be reported to the police’s Victim Support Unit. 

The government has opened one-stop centres in some hospitals to facilitate treatment and reporting of cases of gender-based violence which result in injuries. There are police officers and social welfare officers based in the centres.   

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada as part of The Innovations in Health, Rights and Development, or iHEARD, project. The project is led by a consortium of: Farm Radio International, CODE, and Marie Stopes International (MSI) and implemented in Malawi by Farm Radio Trust, Women and Children First, Girl Effect, and Viamo.