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Malawi: Support services help survivors of gender-based violence

It’s a bright Thursday morning and Jennifer Kabiya is busy washing last night’s supper dishes. Dressed in a dark-blue T-shirt and a long piece of linen chitenje cloth, the 26-year-old mother sits on a veranda with her daughter. She is pregnant and expecting a second child. Mrs. Kabiya says, “I am struggling with the pregnancy because my husband stopped supporting me and my daughter. He has another wife and he doesn’t take care of us.”

Mrs. Kabiya lives in Muthana village, about 65 kilometres west of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. She is suffering from gender-based violence because her husband neglects her. 

Being pregnant, she needs money, and, without support, she cannot buy basic household needs. Mrs. Kabiya adds: “I also need to go to the hospital for check-ups regularly, but I am failing due to lack of support from my husband. Life is tough because I can’t even afford to pay school fees for my child.”

Mrs. Kabiya is her husband’s second wife. She says that, when she first got pregnant in 2016, her husband stopped making regular visits to her house. She says she agreed to marry him and be a second wife, but her husband has never slept in her house. 

Mrs. Kabiya says that life with her husband has not been rosy for a number of years. She explains: “We have been having arguments on how he should take care of our child and myself. Because he failed to support us, firstly, I logged a complaint to the chief in my village, who referred me to Forum for Concerned Young People.”

The Forum for Concerned Young People is a community-based organization, formed in 1003 under Plan International, that supports people facing gender-based violence. The organization has a mandate to take gender-based violence cases to court. When Mrs. Kabiya visited the organization, she was given a letter to summon her husband so that they could discuss their issues, but her husband didn’t comply. His failure to comply caused Forum for Concerned Young People officials to report him to police. 

Through their Victims Support Unit, the police called her husband to discuss the situation, and her husband admitted that his actions were wrong. 

Malita Jonathan is a mother of three from Kafere village in Lilongwe who has also faced gender-based violence, both neglect and physical violence. Mrs. Jonathan says her first husband was violent, would come home drunk, and wouldn’t even pay for basic needs like food and household things to support her family. She explains, “My husband was jobless and used to physically assault me if he found food unprepared whenever he was drunk.”

When Mrs. Jonathan re-married, she again faced gender-based violence. She says, “I didn’t know and realize that there are organizations like community-based organizations and police that help people deal with cases of gender-based violence.” 

She was advised to visit a community-based organization, and the organization wrote a letter to her husband. The case was ultimately escalated to the police and is now in court, as Mrs. Jonathan and her former husband try to resolve the issue of support for their children after divorce.

Norah Mtemula is a program officer at Forum for Concerned Young People. She explains, “When victims of gender-based violence come, we provide counseling services, discussions, equal treatment, and fair trial or judgement.”

After bringing her concerns to the Forum for Concerned Young People and after the police intervention, Mrs. Kabiya says: “I want to travel back to my home village to stay with my mother. My husband agreed to make a share of his money towards supporting me. I think fair trial and judgement exists within the police. The judgement I got from the police was fair to me.”

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.