Men in Malawi join the fight against gender-based violence

December 7, 2015
Photo by Kieran McConville

The fight against gender-based violence can’t be won by women alone. Concern works with men’s and father’s groups to engage them in the effort. These are the stories of three Malawi men who are, each in their own way, helping to ensure that the women in their communities are safe, secure, and able to realize their full potential.

Esau Kamwendo

Esau grew up believing that domestic violence was normal. “My father would beat my mother regularly,” he says. “It was just what men believed — if you don’t beat your wife she will not behave.” He was the sole sibling of seven to get an education. “One of my sisters died while giving birth at the age of fourteen. These things affected me very much.”

Esau Kamwendo

Sub Inspector Esau Kamwendo has been working with the Victim Support Unit of the Malawi Police Service for nearly eight years. He believes that the keys to tackling gender-based violence are economic empowerment for women, education of youth, and enforcement of marriage laws. Photo: Kieran McConville

Now Esau works in the Malawi Police Service’s Victim Support Unit (VSU), where every day he strives to end domestic violence and protect its victims. Initially he found limited success. “I was with the VSU for seven years,” he says. “We did awareness meetings and counseling with communities. But I saw there was a gap — our unit could not reach many of the people. We decided to partner with NGOs, community organizations, and youth groups… and our data shows that people are responding.”

“It was just what men believed — if you don’t beat your wife she will not behave.”

Esau is cautiously optimistic about the future. “If the new marriage law [that stipulates a minimum age of 18] is enforced, then the next generation has hope,” he says. “I myself have two boys and one girl, and I am trying hard to make sure they do not suffer the same disadvantages that we did in the past.”

Smart Minhezi

“I married her because I loved her and I still love her very, very much.”

Smart Minehzi married his wife Mage 40 years ago, and has always supported her with tasks in the home, garden and farm — even when it meant ridicule from his friends for doing “woman’s work.”

Smart Minezhi and Mage Smart

Smart Minezhi (64) is married to Mage Smart (59) and lives in Chabulumunda Village, T/A Ngabu in Nsanje district. He is a role model locally because of how closely he works with Mage on domestic matters as well as on the family farm. Photo: Kieran McConville

“Although most of my friends laugh at me, this does not demotivate me since I am doing this in order for my household to live a better life, and I think it’s high time we change how we think and start treating women equally,” he says.

“My friends believe I have used magic to charm him into being this way.”

Mage is involved in small livestock production and conservation agriculture. But when she lost sight in one eye three years ago, Smart’s support became even more critical.

Mage praises her husband as loving, hardworking, and responsible. “My friends believe I have used magic to charm him into being this way. I think it would be good if all men were more like my Smart.”

Lenason Dinyero

When Lenason Ninyero found out that Daliyesi Mozhenti, a 14-year-old girl in his village, was about to be married to a 19-year-old man from a nearby town, he and his fathers’ group swung into action.

Lenason Dinyero is a 34-year-old farmer from Dinyero village in Misamvu, Nsanje district in southern Malawi. He is also chairperson of Nyantchiri School Fathers’ Group. “As a ‘fathers’ group’ we work to protect and rescue vulnerable children, especially girls, from harmful cultural practices, including early or forced marriages.”

Lenason Dinyero

Lenason Dinyero is a 34-year-old farmer from Dinyero village in Misamvu, Nsanje district. He is chairperson of Nyantchiri School Fathers’ Group. Lenason says he joined the father group to help in the fight against early or forced marriages and other cultural practices that prevent children from achieving a good level of education. Photo: Kieran McConville

Though Malawi’s new Marriage Act increases the legal minimum age for marriage to 18, that’s not always what happens in practice. When the fathers’ group looked into Daliyesi’s case, they found that the parents of both the girl and the young man had arranged the marriage. When mediation failed to convince the parents to call the marriage off, the fathers’ group informed the police and child protection services.

“A literate generation will benefit the entire community.”

The marriage was cancelled, and the parents were fined two goats per family. Most importantly, Daliyesi has been able to stay in school, complete fifth grade and move on to sixth.

“A literate generation will benefit the entire community,” said Lenason. “We have had some success and we are working hard on it.”

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