The Grassroots Movement Changing Norms and Lives in Malawi

How HYCF is engaging the whole community to empower women.

Image owned by HYCF

At Women’s March Global, we believe in the power of local movements — and want to help showcase the critical work they’re doing each and every day to empower women, girls, and gender-diverse people in local contexts on the ground. Today, we want to spotlight the Helping You Community Forum (HYCF) — a registered NGO based in Karonga, Malawi, that’s just one example of a small but mighty grassroots movement that deserves recognition.

HYCF works on a plethora of issues that affect their local community — from poverty, (81 % of people in Karonga live below the poverty line and 23% are considered “ultra-poor”) to sanitation and health, to gender-based violence and the harmful norms and narratives that come with it.

Gender-Based Violence

From our spotlight on Romania, to our preliminary Global Count results — it’s evident that gender-based violence, unfortunately, remains at the centre of conversations about women’s empowerment — and it’s no different in Malawi.

Gender-based violence in Malawi’s Karonga district occurs mostly from domestic relations and reports indicate that 90% of the victims are women.

David Ghambi, Chief Executive Officer of HYCF, states:

“Gender-based violence cases remain unreported mostly due to the sensitivity of the issue. In most of the cases here in Karonga women more often fall victim to this than men, because all the cultures in the district practice the patrilineal types of marriage where more power lays in the hands of men.”

Reports from the District Social Welfare Office and Karonga Police Station indicate that many women in the district are suffering silently as they don’t have information about how and where to file reports. It is also indicated that many men are emotionally or physically abusing women, without realising that their acts are violating the rights of another person — signaling a dire need for education on the issue among men and boys too.

As we delved into in our previous article, the Global Count data shows that women all over the world are impacted by violence and they demand tangible and urgent action. The latest findings from Global Count data show that 87% of Malawian women and gender-diverse participants respondents from Malawi noted ending harassment and violence as the top issue for them, with political barriers seen as the biggest obstacle to achieving change on this. Other issues cited as important included education and empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

By taking the Global Count poll and sharing it widely within your communities, you contribute to our collective stance against gender-based violence.

Harmful Norms and Narratives

“We want to make sure we have a society where we will get women into power, give proper value to women, and empower mothers.”

— Global Count Respondent, Karonga, Malawi

Every community, culture, and society is laced with harmful norms and narratives from the past — often so ingrained into the way we think that it takes a lot of time and collective reflection to see past them and make progress.

According to David Ghambi, Chief Executive Officer of HYCF:

“The Ngonde [local people] are strongly patriarchal. While this is the case in many African cultures — and many tribes in Malawi — in Karonga, the situation is dire. Past attempts to alleviate this situation considering women and men’s economic and social gap by the government have been unsuccessful because of poor understanding of the particular patriarchal nature of the community’s culture in Karonga district.”

He continues:

“Karonga women and girls are not considered an important part of the cultural and economic landscape, and they are not allowed entrance into the very decision-making processes that determine the avenues and opportunities that are afforded to them within the community.”

Meanwhile, women are often overwhelmed with domestic tasks, including taking care of the children, cleaning, and cooking as you might expect — but in rural Malawi, this also often stretches to farming and providing the household with food and water.

This huge burden of unpaid work taking up the time and energy of rural women contributes to them having fewer decision-making roles within the community — which leads to increased vulnerability to community problems they end up with no say in.

HYCF: Involving the whole community

Overall, HYCF not only works tirelessly on the ground, but involves the whole community — including local and religious leaders, law gatekeepers, and teachers — in implementing their projects to tackle all of the above local challenges with a multi-angled, unified approach.

Examples include capacity building of parents and caregivers on girls’ rights, mental health and empowerment workshops for women and girls, awareness campaigns, and negotiating with stakeholders and local authorities to take action on harmful practces such as child marriage.

Be counted now!

Has HYCF’s work in Karonga, Malawi inspired you? Are there similar movements doing great work that you feel need more recognition too?

Whoever and wherever you are, you deserve to be heard. By taking the Global Count poll, not only can you share the issues most impacting you and your community, but also let us know the tireless movements and organisations working with women, girls, and gender-diverse people in your own community — so we can spread the word about them, too.

Women's March Global is dedicated to sharing the stories and voices from our global network of chapters and members around the world.

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