«You can be more than just a wife»

«You can be more than just a wife»

My name is Grace Kumanda. I work in an organization in Malawi called Pacacherry which literally means «Under a fear tree» — because we talk about things people are not comfortable to talk about: sexism, early marriages and sex-work.

Technically sex work is not illegal. But we have a pino-code which was established years ago, during the colonies time. Most of this laws were meant to protect women, but for some reasons they were misinterpreted and used against them. If girls-sexworkers sit in the bar or stand along the street, policemen can just arrest them. And their argument will be: «What are they doing at that time at that place?». When you ask them what about the men, they say that men were drinking.

There are sex workers in the age of 10 years. But in my country you can be a sex worker only if you are 18 of above. So they lie that they are 18, because they still want to be in the space. Most of them dropped out of school, often primary. They literally do it for a living. The HIV prevalence is very high among sex workers: around 62 from 100 are positive.

There are sex workers in the age of 10 years. But in my country you can be a sex worker only if you are 18 of above. So they lie that they are 18, because they still want to be in the space. Most of them dropped out of school, often primary. They literally do it for a living. The HIV prevalence is very high among sex workers: around 62 from 100 are positive.

Malawi is a conservative country. People can laugh at the meetings, because why do we talk about this issues? Don`t we promote the sex work? «Sex workers are immoral sinners!».

We have created a system, thanks to which in case of violence girls can report. A lot of clients abuse and violate sex workers. We`ve linked up with police, with NGOs, we have our own health facilities. Around 6 years ago out of 100 cases of violence probably 50 would be made by police. Now it’s around 10.

There is a feeling that if I`m a sex worker and I am violated — well, I`m a sex worker, what I am supposed to do? But sex worker is a human being. She could be my sister. She could be my mother. She is someone who has a value. Why should we disregard her? What gives us right to do that?

There are a lot of early marriages in Malawi. The culture that exists is a culture that does not promote girls` education. It is a culture that expects boys to be better. Sometimes family can push girl to get married. To someone who is older, has property, money — there are a lot of school dropouts because of that.

We have a program called «My future», which promotes education for girls. We`ve asked girls: «What do you want to be when you grow up?» And they said: «I just want to have a baby». They don’t even think about anything bigger. Girls don’t have role models. All that they see is that if you’re a woman, you get married and have children — that’s it. But they can be bigger than that. You can be more than just a wife.

If we talk about contraception, the feedback that we get is: «You want our children to have sex?».

So we talked to mothers and daughters. For instance, we asked a mother if her 14-years old child has sex. The answer was no, never. But when we asked the child the answer was yes. And it was an unprotected sex. We have so many teenage pregnancies. Mostly girls are about 13, but there are even 10 years old.

In the frames of «My future» project I have worked with a 12 years old girl who did not even finish primary school. All that she saw is a lot of her friends getting married and having children. So she started dating an older man who owned a shop — she ended up pregnant. When we met her, she has been out of school for 3 years. This man was violent and finally dropped her. She didn’t see her future, she didn’t even think about going back to school. We started talking to her through the peers. In few months her mom agreed to take care about baby and she came back to school. Sometimes you just need information and a little help.

The perception that if the husband beats me that means that he loves me is still there. But domestic violence is haunted now. The problem that we have is that a lot of women report, but then they come back and say: «It’s my husband» — and she withdraws the claim. Or there is a case when a woman is abused but she doesn’t even report.

She is afraid of her partner or what the community will say. «What did you do to make him beat you? You must have done something that triggered him! You should change your behaviour». Also there are a lot of christians who say that you are supposed to submit.

We have a lot of challenges. We’ve seen a lot of progress, but we can do better. What girls need to do is to understand that they have a value and they are not worse than men — so they don’t have to live worse.

 

author: Angelina Sardaryan

By |2019-02-05T16:57:15+00:00July 24, 2018

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