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Safe space project helps girls escape early marriages in Mzimba, Malawi
With support from Action Aid, gender-based violence intervention programs in Mzimba have started bearing fruit-Blessings Gondwe.
Malawi-With support from Action Aid, gender-based violence intervention programs in Mzimba have started bearing fruit, writes Blessings Gondwe.
One such program is the creation of the "safe space" initiative, which has had a positive impact on the lives of girls in the area.
Seventeen-year-old Wezi Mark Silungwe from Muwekwa village at Edingeni, in the area of Traditional Authority M'mbelwa, is a student whose life has positively changed through the safe space project.
She says before the project, she used to have problems concentrating in class and was on the verge of withdrawing from school to get married like some of her agemates.
However, she chose to join the Mzukuzuku safe space group established in her area, where girls are being trained to control their sexual urges and focus on education to cement their future.
Through the intervention, Silungwe has benefited a lot, and in the just-ended Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) exams, she scooped up 17 points from Chitipa Secondary School.
"I thank the safe space initiative for drilling me to choose wisely. I advise other girls to join this platform so that they avoid getting involved in teen activities that end up bringing about teen pregnancies," she said.
Another 17-year-old girl, Salome Mphande, from Msuku Village, Edingeni, in the area of Traditional Authority M'mbelwa, was forced to get married at age 16 because her parents could not provide for her basic needs.
"The man used to beat me up, and starve me," she disclosed. But with the intervention of Edingeni Women Movement, Salome's life is now not the same.
The movement, made up of over 50 women, intervened and dissolved the marriage. Mphande was released from the forced marriage and advised to return to school, which she did.
She is now in Form Three at Edingeni Community, having adhered to spotlight interventions.
"I was advised by the Women's Movement to leave the marriage and return to school, and this has paid off," she reveals.
Salome dreams of becoming a nurse in the future.
The chairperson of the M'mbelwa Women Movement has revealed that the group now pays for Salome's school fees and provides for her other basic needs.
"The money we make through a small-scale business such as baking, and soap making is saved and used to help children who have been withdrawn from child marriages," the chairperson said.
So far, 11 girls have been withdrawn from marriages in 2022 and sent back to school at Edingeni CDSS.
The Director of Education for M'mbelwa District Council, Fiddes Msowoya, has called for more efforts from stakeholders so that many children are able to access education in the district without hindrances.
Child protection worker for Edingeni area, Yohane Chikwalimba, says through the project, there has been proper coordination in the implementation of GBV interventions among police, health, Chiefs Council, and the judiciary under the Spotlight Initiative project.
Action Aid Project Officer for the Spotlight project, Leah Katuya, hailed the adaptation of interventions by women as well as men in the project.
"We have not only created women forums but also we have trained male champions who are leading by example in transforming their fellow men to end GBV," she said.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator to Malawi, Rebecca Adda-Dontoh, expressed her appreciation for the Spotlight project interventions during her visit to Edingeni.
She commended traditional leaders for taking a leading role in eliminating gender-based violence in their respective territories.
However, she also called on religious leaders to take an active role in the fight against gender-based violence. She emphasized the importance of community ownership for the project's sustainability.
The Spotlight project is funded by UN Women and implemented by Action Aid and the Spotlight Initiative.