By Watipaso Mzungu
Two staunch human rights enthusiasts, only separately by platforms where they discharge their duties, have found a common ground in confronting sexual and gender based violence in all fronts.
Prophet Amos Kambale leads one of the fastest growing Pentecostal Churches in Malawi, Life International Church, while Gray Kalindekafe is heading the National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE).
Both agree their personal experiences of domestic violence and how it impacts the people they serve, their community, and the country at large.
Kambale and Kalindekafe, through their separate platforms, have resolved to work towards eliminating all forms of violence in Malawi and beyond.
But Justice Forty Zimba, who lives in Kamundenga Village in Traditional Authority M’mbelwa in Mzimba, wonders whether the church has the moral ground to denounce violence against women and girls.
Zimba, 44, raises a question of a close connection between patriarchal Christianity and domestic violence and abuse, arguing that religions have gen
Prophet Kambale: Domestic violence is a far cry from the character of Jesus–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu
He seems to agree with Steven Tracy, author of “Patriarchy and Domestic Violence”, who writes, “While patriarchy may not be the overarching cause of all abuse, it is an enormously significant factor, because in traditional patriarchy males have a disproportionate share of power… So while patriarchy is not the sole explanation for violence against women, we would expect that male headship would be distorted by insecure, unhealthy men to justify their domination and abuse of women.”
Christianity and domestic violence deals with the debate in Christian communities about the recognition and response to domestic violence, which is complicated by a culture of silence and acceptance among abuse victims. There are some Bible verses that abusers use to justify discipline of their wives.
In fact, a subculture known as Christian domestic discipline promotes spanking of wives by their husbands as a form of punishment although Christian groups and authorities generally condemn domestic violence as inconsistent with the general Christian duty to love others and to the scriptural relationship between husband and wife.
Kambale acknowledges that violence has found a place in every society where people live or gather, including places of worship.
“To understand why domestic and family violence is a problem in our churches, we must be willing to dialogue about violence, power, gender, and marriage within the wider faith community, the government and the civil society,” he said.
Kambale emphasized that domestic violence is in stark opposition to God’s plan for families.
“For instance, chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis depict marriage as a one-flesh, helping relationship. Ephesians 5:2 talks about mutual submission while Ephesians 5:22-24 explains a wife’s submissiveness to her husband, while verses 25–33 talk about a husband’s self-sacrificial love for his wife,” he says.
On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 7:4 says, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”
Kambale says this shows that the two belong to one another and are called to love one another as Christ loved mankind.
“Marriage is an image of Christ and the Church. Domestic violence is a far cry from the character of Jesus,” he explained.
Kalindekafe said violence is a cross-cutting subject; hence, there is a need for combined efforts by the church, civil society, the governmental and its development partners to eliminate the monster that continues to stand in the way of women empowerment.
He said Malawi ranks 173 out of 188 on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) and has the eighth highest child marriage rate in the world and, as the Borgen Project study established, the widespread child marriage has impacted many young girls and their futures.
He challenged that the country will face an uphill task to realize Malawi 2063 agenda if women and girls – who form over 50 percent of our population – remain trapped in SGBV bondage.
“Our recent survey revealed that widespread poverty as one of the major contributors to child marriages in Malawi. Girls are the most vulnerable, as parents and guardians opt to marry them off in hopes of economic advancement,” said Kalindekafe.
Speaking during a fundraising gala organised by Girl Education Trust (GET) in Lilongwe recently, First Lady Monica Chakwera called for more support towards girl education in order to break the cycle of poverty in the country.
Chakwera observed that a girl child faces unimaginable challenges that need urgent action.
“Even though girl’s education is on the global agenda, the inequalities in access, achievement, attainment and accomplishment remain overwhelming,” she said.
The First Lady said girls are still leaving school “too soon before acquiring the skills and knowledge that could positively impact their lives as well as the communities where they live.”
She further observed that education has often been more available for boys than girls. However, even where it has been equally provided for both girls and boys, several barriers have prevented girls from participating effectively as boys, which lead to poor learning achievements, repetitions and eventually dropping out.
“Research shows that girls from the poorest rural households are the least likely to complete primary schooling and transition to secondary. Just 15 out of 26 girls from these households complete secondary school,” she said.
Malawi has made commitments to ensure a complete ban on child marriages. For instance, the government has pledged to a United Nations Sustainable goal to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
Through this goal, the nation plans to eradicate all child marriage in Malawi by 2030. The government also created the National Plan of Action to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Malawi.
However, a recent assessment by NICE in Dowa and Ntchisi revealed that Malawi still has a long way to go to eliminate disparities that exist between men and women.
In the two districts, NICE has been implementing a UN Women-sponsored project called “Spotlight Initiative that is aimed at eliminating all forms of sexual and gender based violence and harmful practices towards women and children.”
The project aims to give women and girls more opportunities by integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment into all of the development efforts.
The project has a number of themes, but NICE is focusing on awareness and culture. The project is targeting women, girls, men, boys, gatekeepers, custodians of culture, and community at large to deepen awareness and consciousness on existence of violence against women and girls and its pervasive impact on the rights of women and girls, and the need to eliminate the vice.
Kalindekafe said in the course of the implementation of the project, they discovered that the two districts have entrenched traditional and cultural norms that are fueling violence against women and girls.
He said their assessment had indicated that gatekeepers, who include traditional leaders, teachers, parents, are among the major perpetrators of SGBV.
The assessment also found that local government structures such as social welfare officers and the police often fail to reach out to more distant areas to address and follow-up on cases due to limited availability of transportation money, and district-level stakeholders also fail to conduct frequent and effective monitoring visits and follow-up on issues in hard-to-reach areas.
Another barrier to elimination of SGBV is the confusion between the country’s constitution and other Acts such as the Penal Code over marriage age and age for consensual sex.
Kalindekafe challenged that unless legal instruments are aligned to ensure that they are complementing each other, especially in terms of recognition of an adult, Malawi will continue wandering in the wilderness.
“It’s therefore befitting that the mindset change being propagated in the Malawi 2063 agenda be also applied to change attitudes , beliefs , customs , cultural practices that promote patriarchy and fuel SGBV. The Malawi 2063 agenda calls for a positive mindset among the citizenry and its leadership,” he said.
In the implementation of MW2063, NICE and the Ministry of Civic Education have been tasked to implement enabler 1, which is mindset change whose objective is to have ‘a united, patriotic and proud people’ that believe in their own abilities and are active participants in building the nation towards its development goals’.