Friday the 14th of February was a gloomy day with some scattered rain showers in Blantyre where we held our first One Billion Rising event in Malawi. To make matters worse, the event happened to coincide with the presenting of the incumbent president Dr. Joyce Banda’s handing over her nomination papers for her candidacy for president this coming 20th of May. Traffic was chaotic as most roads were blocked to the public. This was something that had hit the city the whole week.
Because this happens to be the rainy season in Malawi we had decided to hold the function indoors just in case it rained. It turned out to be a good idea. At least we got one thing right. Despite advertising about the event on several radio stations, only a few people showed up. We started the program two hours after schedule after waiting to see if the turn up would get better. What mattered was that some people had showed up and it was these few folk who would help spread the word about One Billion Rising for Justices message.
As the National coordinator for One Billion Rising I was the first to speak. I gave a brief background about One Billion Rising and the work it has done as an organization around the world. The message was very clear, there was a need to end gender based violence (GBV) once and for all.
Whether or not the Malawian people had become more vocal about issues of child rape and defilement, we decided that it was an area of gender GBV that couldn’t be ignored. It was because of this that we made the theme of our discussion/event “Child Rape and Defilement: What can we do to help the Malawian girl child.”
After my introduction Chigo Chokani-Gondwe blessed us with some poems but before she started, she got us all to create a poem to do with GBV using the letters of the alphabet. Someday I’ll write down that poem but for now people will have to wait for the documentary coming out soon.
What others didn’t know but I knew was that when I asked her to join/help me in organizing the event she didn’t hesitate. At that time, she confided in me that she too had been raped in her younger days. She was getting on board to help save the girls child. When she was raped she didn’t have anyone to go to and even though she is now healed, she wishes she had had a strong support system then to help her go through it all. It is important to have a shoulder to cry and lean on.
I called upon Rev. Dr. Silas Ncozana to address the people present. Being both a reverend and a professor, he tackled the issue from a biblical point of view as I had asked him to focus on the church’s position when it comes to GBV. He started his presentation/lecture with the creation story and how we were all created in the image of God. He then went on to talk about how Eve was given to Adam and how they ended up sinning. The lesson then took a turn when he asked just how then a grown man can want to hurt a child whose feelings can’t for one match his. God created Eve for a reason so we the people should not change that but learn to love one another.
They say that one’s interpretation of a lesson like his can differ but what I got from his message was that the child is not a grown man’s match so should not engage in matters of intimacy because it is wrong at many levels.
After the good reverend we eased it up with another round of poems by Yankho Seunda a poet/actor who decided to join the cause so he came out to support us. Very patient young man. He joined us early and wanted to know what One Billion Rising is all about. I explained to him while putting up posters. Like Chigo, Yankho is a gifted young man. Joining the couse was all about his passion to give back to the country. He also felt that a discussion like ours was long overdue.
Dr. Neil Kennedy joined us as we were already underway. He later explained as he dashed out right after his presentation that he had a lecture so he had to go. His presentation was on the One Stop Centre where their main focus is GBV. The centre offers medical help, free counseling for the victims and their support base, social welfare services plus the victims support unit. UNICEF is one of the organizations that helped in building the centre. Currently there are only two centres open (Blantyre and Zomba) in the country with two more to be opened soon in Mzuzu and Lilongwe the capital city.
When sending out invitations Chigo had called the Maranatha Academy who joined us on that day. The students surprised us when they said they too had prepared something for us. I was handed a list and on it was a speech, some poems and a dance performance (which was left for last after the last presenter who was the rape victim’s mother). I personally was impressed with the speech which had some statistics on GBV. It also covered some of the efforts that organizations like UNICEF have made to advocate for the end of GBV.
When the child rape victims took the stage we all didn’t expect to hear what we heard. Speaking in vernacular she narrated the whole story about how her daughter had been abducted in their home in the middle of the night. Fortunately for her she used to sleep with her three year old sister then and it was she who alerted them of the fact that he sister was not in the house. They run out to check on her and could not find her. The yelling and calling yielded nothing for minutes unto a neighbor said they had found her. Agnes was walking with difficulty dragging her legs covered in blood from head to toe.
After using up their savings and rushing her to the hospital for medical attention, they were advised after a government minister told them to come to the main hospital in the southern region of Malawi Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH). It was here that she was patched up. I’m told she ended up having a hysterectomy or some procedure done because she will never have children. As if that was not enough, she also has a rectovaginal fistula a condition where the feces find their way into the vagina.
All this happened last year. She was only 10. You can tell from the way she walks that she is not 100% healed. She has diet issues as she can’t eat food that is not processed. Unfortunately she is from a poor family so she has it bad both ways in the sense that not only can’t the family afford to feed her the diet she needs, they can’t afford to get her the justice she deserves.
The man who raped her, even though she identified him on the lineup, is now a free man acquitted of all charges. The appeals go unheard and a petition was handed to the high court to do something about the case. Those in the know about the laws say it should have been handed to parliament and not the high court.
We then had a question answer session where some suggested that the child not be in places where her ordeal is repeated over and over again or she be the one to present the story to people because that in itself is a hindrance in her healing process. The parents were encouraged to be her support system and some asked what they should do to help the girl child.
The challenges faced by the courts, the police and the One Stop Centre are many with the common one being funding. It was then concluded that with the problems they face we at One Billion Rising together with the people present should advocate for more One Stop Centre’s across the country, more child friendly victims support unit to help relax the victims so they can open up and give out more info to help their cases, more child magistrate courts are needed across the country, engaging men in the fight was crucial to winning the battle and of course that the people had to start giving back to the country and one way of doing so is to get active in politics as their votes count. Without their vote some of the changes above will never happen. We have to start being the change we want to see.