This Tuesday was Martyrs’ day here in Malawi. Martyrs’ Day is a public holiday commemorating those who lost their lives or freedom on 3 March 1959 during a revolt against British rule. The revolt was led by Hastings Banda, who went on to become Malawi’s first President following independence.
As we had a day off, a few friends and I decided to trek up Nkhoma Mountain, which is about an hour south of Lilongwe. The trek is supposed to take about three hours but we managed to miss the path (which in our defence was well hidden in the maize fields!) and ended up going pretty much straight up the slope. It was tough, but the stunning views we were rewarded with when we eventually made it to the peak made all the hard work worthwhile. Forging our own path also gave the trek a David Livingstone-esque vibe. Livingstone was another key figure in Malawi’s history, instrumental in both abolishing the slave trade and introducing Christianity. In fact, the town of Blantyre, where GOAL Malawi’s head office is located, was named after Livingstone’s birthplace in Scotland.
International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on the 8th of March, is another important day in Malawi. This year it falls on a Sunday, and GOAL is part of a group that has come together to organise events to mark the occasion. The plan is to hold marches in three main towns (Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu) to celebrate women and gender equality. In Blantyre, where GOAL is most involved, the idea is also to have an expo showcasing organisations and businesses that are women-owned or which on focus gender issues, as well as live music from female artists, a poetry corner, and keynote speakers (hopefully including Esmie Tembenu, a retired juvenile court magistrate and one of GOAL Malawi’s national advisory committee members). Unfortunately, however, with two days to go before the event, the organisers have been informed that the current ruling party is planning a political rally in Blantyre on the same day, so the plans may need to change a little. I’ll let you know next week how it all turns out!
Celebrating International Women’s Day is important for GOAL as gender equality and empowerment for all are key issues that are very much on the organisation’s agenda. In Malawi, GOAL does a wide range of work on women’s issues, from supporting female farmers to promoting good menstrual hygiene management and trying to limit gender-based violence.
The work on menstrual hygiene management is something I have been particularly struck by. In part, this focuses on breaking the culture of silence that surrounds the issue and eliminating social stigma associated with menstruation. GOAL works with local leaders (male as well as female) in rural communities to get an open conversation going about menstrual hygiene. At the same time, GOAL works with women and girls to improve their access to sanitary pads. This has included training groups on how to source materials and sew re-usable pads themselves. With pooled community resources, some of these groups have now started small businesses selling these pads and are in the process of paying back the costs of a sewing machine they sourced on loan through GOAL. All of this work has contributed to ensuring that women and girls are able to appropriately and hygienically manage their menstruation, and it has even been noticed that girls are now missing fewer days of school as a result.
This is just one example of the fantastic work GOAL does on women’s issues in Malawi. This Sunday is intended as a celebration of that and the other incredible work being done by and for women throughout the nation. I’ll let you know how it all goes!