The Spotlight Initiative (SI) Malawi picked up considerable pace in 2020 and continues to illustrate the value of United Nations (UN) Reform and Delivering as One (DaO) in complementarity with operating as a true demonstration fund for UN Reform. This cohesive approach to the Programme’s implementation has resulted in catalytic results towards the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls (EVAWG) that reflect the transformational vision of the SI. The strategic partnership between the EU and the UN remains a driving force for the achievement of sustainable results under the Programme.
UN Reform and DaO principles are firmly embedded throughout the SI and are a salient feature of the Initiative. The Initiative supports survivors holistically through a multi-dimensional Programme that leverages on the expertise, experiences and resources of 4 UN Agencies (UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women), as well as of the EU, resulting in greater efficiency and deeper impact.
This programmatic cohesion is further enhanced through the Resident Coordinator’s leadership, which serves to situate the SI within the broader development landscape of Malawi.
The programmatic successes of 2020 are also testament to several strategic partnerships that were established and/or strengthened at all levels. The leadership of the SI’s twoline Ministries, the Ministry of Gender Community Development and Social Welfare (MoGCDSW) and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MoLGRD), ensured the alignment of the SI to Malawi’s efforts towards the achievement of the SDGs and national development goals, particularly on SDG 5 on Gender Equality. In addition, the MoLGRD has been a crucial partner in ensuring the sustainability of the SI by mandating and empowering district and traditional authorities to steer the Programme at the local level.
The UN and EU alliance attained new heights in 2020 and captured the attention of Malawians through the delivery of powerful messages on EVAWG. The two institutions collaborated closely to advocate for the enhanced protection of women and girls throughout the year, including raising awareness on the heightened risks faced by women and girls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the EU contributed to the SI’s efforts to transform harmful behaviour that affect women and girls, and continues to play a critical role that extends beyond the traditional donor function.
By the end of 2020, a total of 28 CSOs were engaged as Implementing Partners (IPs) to administer approximately 40% of the 2020 Programme budget. Of these 28 CSOs, 40% are grassroots organisations. The prioritization of national partners reflects the Programme’s sustainable approach to EVAWG by building the capacity of local organisations already actively addressing VAWG and SRHR in SI communities.
In line with the principle of Leaving No One Behind (LNOB), the Malawi SI partnered with a broad spectrum of civil society actors that focus on mitigating the intersectional discriminations faced by women and girls. This enabled the SI to meaningfully engage female sex workers, female refugees, women, and girls living with HIV-AIDS and women and girls with disabilities both as beneficiaries of the SI and to empower partners driving change in their own homes and communities.
The SI’s partnership with Civil Society was further reinforced through the Civil Society National Reference Group (CSNRG). Its 14 experts on Sexual and Gender Based Violence and Harmful Practices (SGBV/HP) and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) represent a cross-section of society, including the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community, female sex workers, traditional leaders, and others. This diverse membership informs and reinforces the LNOB approach employed by the SI and positions the CSNRG to strengthen the SI’s governance by contributing its broad expertise and inclusive lens. A number of measures were adopted to bolster the CSNRG’s role, including their permanent inclusion in the SI core team, and the facilitation of a CSNRG shadow monitoring mission to all SI districts.
As the degree of cohesion within the SI UN team intensified, the positive collaborative spirit had a spillover effect into other processes, to the benefit of women and girls. Under the leadership of the RC, the SI coordination team convened 3 other UN Joint Programmes (JPs) to brainstorm and agree on a cohesive response to the surge in teenage pregnancies and child marriages that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, for maximized impact.
Thus, the SI and its partners achieved significant results across all 6 outcome areas of the SI while also contributing to SDG 5 on Gender Equality in particular, but also to SDGs 3 on Health, 4 on Education, 10 on Reduced Inequalities, 16 on Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, and 17 on Partnerships.
Strategic litigation under Pillar 1 (Laws and Policies) elevated the position of VAWG on the political agenda of the country by helping to set a ground-breaking historic legal precedent that protects women and girls from violence. The High Court ruling on the emblematic Msundwe case3 holds State actors accountable for perpetrating VAWG in a situation of political and electoral unrest and led to the creation of institutional mechanisms to prevent VAWG by the Police.
Institutional strengthening through Pillar 2 went beyond conventional state entities to include traditional leaders, who now have a framework, and established network to harmonize and guide their role in EVAWG. Consultations with 3,421 community stakeholders ensured that the innovative Chiefs Forums are embraced by all and that the Chiefs are accountable to their communities, particularly women and girls.
Under Pillar 3, interventions to transform harmful behaviour, attitudes, and norms mitigated the risks of SGBV/HPs faced by women and girls and empowered them to speak out. For instance, the Safe Schools intervention taught 212,262 adolescent learners how to detect and report SGBV/ HPs and led to the identification of 941 cases of child marriage and their immediate referral to relevant authorities and actors for action. Additionally, the Safe Space Mentorship Programme created a cadre of 11,440 young women who can ably challenge harmful behaviour that fuel GBV. Their work resulted in the identification of 1,893 cases of child marriage, including 71 cases that subsequently secured convictions in court. In promoting new and positive masculinities, the SI Malawi mobilised over 3,670 men and boys as champions of change and EVAWG.
To ensure access to quality and essential SGBV and SRHR services (Pillar 4), the SI enhanced the capacities of 1,286 service providers in all sectors, including health, mental health, justice, and livelihoods; the improved services and livelihood opportunities benefitted a total of 19,733 vulnerable women and girls. In line with the principle of LNOB, the SI improved the mobility of service providers and community workers to assist women and girls living in hard-to-reach areas through the provision of 60 motorbikes and 940 bicycles.
For the first time in Malawi, a harmonised data collection tool was created to facilitate cohesive SGBV/HP-related data collection by the judiciary, health and social welfare sectors. Similarly under Pillar 5, substantial improvements to Police and Judiciary information systems have led to greater availability of data on SGBV/HPs, and facilitated evidence-based responses to such violence by all actors.
Lastly, under Pillar 6, the SI greatly enhanced women’s movement building in Malawi by facilitating the establishment of district Women’s Assemblies tasked with coordinating and strengthening women’s movement building. A series of capacity-building interventions on topics like disability mainstreaming, SRHR, and effective campaigning has enabled at least 180 women-led grassroots organisations to effectively establish VAWG as a priority in their communities.
The above results were achieved despite several challenges that arose during a tumultuous year for the country. In February, the Malawi Constitutional Court nullified the results of the presidential elections held in May 2019 and ordered fresh presidential elections, which brought a change of Government by July. Consequently, the rate of implementation slowed in the pre and post-electoral periods, and the National Steering Committee has yet to be convened as the new Government has not determined who will assume the Chairmanship of the Committee.
On the 30th of March 2020, the former President of Malawi declared the coronavirus pandemic a National Disaster. A series of preventative measures were instigated, including travel and meeting restrictions, the closure of schools, and restrictions of public gatherings. With few cases and deaths reported, the impact of COVID-19 was largely economic and human rights-related. The closure of schools from April to October 2020 had an especially devastating effect on girls. Between April and September 2020, official figures recorded 13,000 child marriages, 40,000 teenage pregnancies, and shockingly high reports of rape and sexual abuse of women and girls.
The preventative measures obliged the redesign of numerous interventions, particularly handson capacity-building interventions, school-based activities, and community mobilisation activities. As IPs sought to adjust activities and negotiate these with RUNOs, the Programme faced major delays and added costs in implementation.
Nonetheless, the SI team was quick to enact a number of programmatic adjustments. Among these, school-based activities were relocated to community structures, and RUNOs relied on grassroots partners, community structures, and traditional leaders to continue with interventions while still respecting preventative measures.
Throughout the year, the SI Malawi team made concerted efforts to get implementation back on track, which continues to be delayed by some 3-5 months. Regularly updated acceleration plans are in place, with new programmatic priorities reflected, including mainstreaming child marriage and teenage pregnancies.