A new interactive radio series tackling violence against women follows the story of a fictional 13-year-old girl from a remote Malawi community who faces impossible choices. Her family is suffering from the effects of the recent El Niño-related drought; the harvest has been poor and there isn’t enough food to go around. The young girl faces early marriage but is eventually sent to live with relatives instead. This, however, is not a happy ending. She is raped by her uncle shortly after arriving. Though fictional, her story draws on the experiences of real Malawian women and girls, 61% of whom say they have experienced sexual violence.
Listeners are encouraged to call into the show, take on the voice of the characters, and role-play how new attitudes can bring about dramatic change.
Radio dramas have been around for over a century, but this show is unusual in that it’s interactive — listeners are encouraged to call into the show, take on the voice of the characters, and role-play how new attitudes can bring about dramatic change. Radio also happens to be a great way to reach a broad swathe of Malawians as it doesn’t require audiences to be able to read and is widely available in rural areas.
The project is a partnership between Theatre for a Change, a local organization that uses theatrical performance to tackle social issues, charities (including Concern), and Malawi’s Irish embassy. Caoimhe de Barra, who runs Concern’s work in Malawi, says the project aims to create change at many different levels — from rural communities to courtrooms.
“We want to prompt the government to spend more money fighting gender-based violence. We’re asking them to boost support for the judicial system, and fund one-stop centers that give victims a safe place to report crimes.”
Most Malawian women have experienced violence
The first episode of the series, which is titled Let’s End Violence, was broadcast on November 28. In this episode, the girl’s mother confronts the uncle and his wife about the rape. However, the couple deny the crime and hide behind the man’s high status in the community. The mother then goes to the police, but is met with bureaucracy and mountains of paperwork — which is even more intimidating because she can’t read.
“This is a story that happens frequently, sadly,” said Caoimhe. “Survivors of sexual violence and abuse are pushed back at every turn.”
Gender-based violence is a huge problem in Malawi. In a 2013 survey, 61% of Malawian women and girls said they had experienced sexual violence, and 64% had experienced physical violence. A culture of silence and other barriers to justice mean the actual rates are likely much higher.
“We want to prompt the government to spend more money fighting gender-based violence.”
The country’s ongoing food crisis has only worsened the situation. More women and girls are facing early and forced marriages as families seek dowry payments and try to reduce their food bill. Women may have to sell sex to survive, and money shortages increase tensions within families, which can lead to violence.
Let’s End Violence may be a very small step in beginning to address this enormous problem, but by bringing issues of gender-based violence into Malawian homes and involving ordinary people in the conversation, it’s making important progress.