In April 2020, GOAL received funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to implement the Spotlight initiative in the Machinga and Nsanje districts of Malawi. The project, which has a mentorship approach, is aimed at eliminating violence against women and young girls between 10 and 24 years of age. The initiative uses safe spaces so women can freely discuss their experiences and learn about what help is available.
GOAL initially facilitated the identification of mentors within the community and then trained them on the mentorship approach. To facilitate ease of access in hard-to-reach areas, UNFPA recently procured 90 push bicycles, which GOAL has distributed to its mentors in the Machinga and Nsanje district. This will allow them to travel and meet mentees during their weekly mentorship session.
The Spotlight initiative discusses a number of themes to eliminate violence against women. These include attitudes and behavioural change at community and individual levels; exploring sexual gender-based violence (GBV) and its related harmful practices; and the promotion of women and girls’ sexual reproductive health rights. The programme also promotes and strengthens the quality of gender-based violence services.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the initiative was adapted to include COVID-19 prevention measures. Hand sanitizers, soap and tapped buckets were provided to be used during mentorship sessions. Programme mentors were also trained on prevention awareness so it could be introduced as a topic to mentorship sessions.
The two districts targeted in this project by GOAL already had high levels of reported cases of physical violence against women aged between 15-49 years. There are a number of cultural practices that contribute to such high levels of violence, such as wife inheritance (chokolo), where a widow marries a brother or uncle of the deceased husband; and child arranged marriages, which can include human trafficking and sexual death cleansing (a widow sleeps with another man without her will/consent to cast out death spell).
Up to 13% of women in these districts are also in polygamous marriages. In addition, young girls are often forced into initiation ceremonies called ‘fisi’, where they are forced to sleep with a man as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Not only does this violate their sexual and reproductive health rights, it also exposes them to the risk of diseases such as HIV. Malawi has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, with around 9% of adults having the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently warned that as the virus continues to spread, women with violent partners are increasingly finding themselves isolated from the people and resources that can help them. The WHO said that the global cost of violence against women had previously been estimated at approximately US$1.5 trillion. The agency warned that this cost is expected to rise as violence increases and continues in the aftermath of the pandemic.