Fellow: Austin Kunsida
Grant Year: 2019
Location: TA Changata and TA Nchilemwera, Malawi
Organization: Environmental Concerned Youth Association (ECOYA)
Project title: Let Us Speak Out (LUSO)
Project summary: Sexual harassment and sexual violence are a prevalent problem in Malawi. Gender and specific vulnerabilities and risks expose girls to high levels of sexual harassment and violence in and around schools. School related harassment and sexual violence range from dangers on the journey to school (particularly in remote areas where girls travel long distances to school), to harassment and violence from fellow pupils and teachers (for example, demanding sex in exchange for better grades or punishing students who reject sexual advances), as published by Musase Cheyo in ‘Zodiak Online’ in March 2018. When girls face these traumatizing experiences, it is often difficult for them to go on attending school and their only alternative is to drop out. The other common results of sexual abuse can be early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and significant trauma.
The fight against cases of sexual harassment and abuse between teachers and school girls is challenging, as the Changata Child Protection Officer 2017 report shows, most cases go unreported. It was noted that girls who did not report abuse said they felt that school officials would have responded with indifference, disbelief, and hostility if they had. Community leaders and school officials ignore girls’ complaints and many girls do not complain because they fear reprisal, especially from teachers. Many cases of sexual harassment and assault do not get reported to authorities even when parents and guardians are aware of the abuse, especially in tea growing areas like Changata and Nchilemwela. In our Participatory Needs Assessment, we discovered the Changata area only officially registered one single case of sexual harassment and assault in the first quarter (Jan-Mar 2017) and a total of 10 cases the whole year. This low level of reported assault is contrary to assessment findings that almost 85% of school dropout, teenage pregnancies, and child marriage cases emanated from the sexual harassment of adolescent girls.
In order to protect the rights and safety of girls, ECOYA, with the support of Makala Community Based Organization (MACOBO), will advocate with the Area Development Committees in Changata and Nchilemwera to develop and implement a clear, accessible and formal reporting system that will encourage girls and parents to report and address cases of sexual violence and harassment. ECOYA and MACOBO will work closely with mothers’ groups, school heads, Parent Teacher Associations, and group village head groups, to spread awareness about the dangers of sexual harassment and violence in TA Nchilemwera and TA Changata. They will advocate for an easy, transparent, and confidential reporting system for sexual harassment and violence cases against girls in schools and in the community and engage the police commissioner and officers to create a clear and appropriate protocol to address reported cases of sexual harassment and assault in both TAs.