TACKLING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS FOSTERS DEVELOPMENT
The Spotlight Initiative, a joint programme aimed at eliminating violence against women and girls, is the single largest targeted investment in eradicating such abuses that Malawi has ever seen.
The UN is very invested in making the Spotlight Initiative a transformational intervention, because it is mastering a ‘business unusual’ approach by looking into the survivors’ needs and the institutions required to be at the forefront of the response. For that purpose, the Spotlight Initiative in Malawi is focusing on innovation and new partnerships, and rolling out a multi-sectoral strategy that boldly tackles Violence against Women and Girls from multiple directions.
The dire fact remains that Malawi’s developmental progress will stall unless the women and girls who are over half of the country’s population are able to thrive and contribute to national development. A case in point: improving gender equality in the agriculture sector alone could pull almost a quarter of a million people out of poverty.
As an accelerator of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, achieving gender equality is in the interest of all Malawians, the impact would be immediately seen in communities and in the households. It is clear that we would not be able to achieve SDGs, certainly not realize gender equality, unless women and girls can live a life free of violence.
Around 60 per cent of the programme’s implementation is taking place in targeted districts (Dowa, Machinga, Mzuzu,
Nkhata Bay, Nsanje and Ntchisi), where harmful attitudes and beliefs related to violence against women and girls are at the core of the vices. In a recent poll conducted through the Initiative, we found that 24 per cent of respondents believe that harmful practices like child marriage are either important to Malawi’s culture, or necessary for a girl’s development. These are precisely the kinds of attitudes that the programme is working hard to transform.
In line with the 2030 Agenda’s rallying cry to leave no one behind and reach those furthest behind first, the Spotlight Initiative is honing its attention on vulnerable groups as a matter of priority. These include persons with disabilities, refugees and marginalised communities who are situated far from district centres, and who are typically left out of development programmes due to access challenges. The Spotlight Initiative has solidified an unprecedented number of partnership agreements with grassroot organisations, in an effort to develop capacities to address violence against women and girls at the community level and transform harmful attitudes and behaviours.
Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a steep increase of violence against women and girls. In Malawi, data show that the numbers of child marriages and rapes of very young girls are mounting. Between April and May 2020 alone, the number of child marriages reported through the YONECO hotline increased by 18 per cent.
This is an extremely worrying statistic given that, even before the pandemic, Malawi already had one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. For this reason, the Spotlight Initiative is working hand in hand with the Government of Malawi and civil society organisations (CSOs) to ensure that women and girls do not become collateral damage of the measures taken to stop the spread of this disease.
The Initiative is a collaborative effort between the UN, the EU, the Government of Malawi, CSOs, traditional leaders, faith leaders, academia, the media and our list of partners continues to grow. We are working with actors from all walks of life because eliminating violence against women and girls for good requires the commitment and the meaningful engagement of all Malawians.
Ultimately, it is only when we all unite to end senseless violence against women and girls, that we will succeed in propelling Malawi towards prosperity and growth for all.