Empowering Communities, Transforming Lives: GJU’s Impact in Nkhotakota

As we reflect on our year-long project work in the Nkhotakota district, we are filled with a sense of accomplishment and renewed purpose. Our efforts to enhance access to justice and combat gender-based violence (GBV) have made tangible differences in people’s lives while also illuminating the challenges that remain.

Key Achievements:

  1. Comprehensive Baseline Studies: We conducted three in-depth baseline studies – a facility assessment of GBV service providers, an evaluation of existing GBV and sexual harassment resources, and a community scorecard. These studies provided crucial insights that guided our interventions.
  2. Strengthening Local Capacity: We trained 30 community leaders, village heads, faith leaders, and Community Victim Support Unit (CVSU) representatives on GBV response and referral pathways. This has created a network of informed advocates ready to support survivors at the grassroots level.
  3. Enhancing District-Level Response: We conducted a Training of Trainers for 15 key Nkhotakota District Council officials on sexual harassment policy and response mechanisms. This initiative, implemented in collaboration with the Women Judges Association of Malawi, has significantly boosted the capacity of district-level GBV service providers.
  4. Improving Access to Justice: Our nine legal clinics directly assisted over 225 GBV survivors across T/A Mwansambo and T/A Kanyenda. We helped survivors navigate the legal system, enforce court orders, and access support services.
  5. Policy Development: We played a crucial role in developing Nkhotakota District Council’s workplace sexual harassment policy, bringing together key stakeholders to create a more protective environment for employees. This involved multiple review meetings and collaboration with partners like the Malawi Human Rights Commission.
  6. Community Sensitization: Our awareness campaigns reached over 290 community members through large-scale events in T/A Mwansambo and T/A Kanyenda. These events featured impactful performances by local drama groups, highlighting GBV issues through compelling storytelling.
  7. Resource Development: We created a localized GBV booklet and referral pathway posters, providing accessible information to service providers and community members. Fifty copies of the booklet and posters were distributed to key stakeholders.
  8. National Engagement: We participated in high-profile national events, including the launch of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and the commemoration of International Human Rights Day. These engagements amplified our message and showcased our work to a broader audience.
  9. Media Outreach: We conducted radio programs on Nkhotakota Community Radio and Umunthu FM, reaching an estimated audience of 1.4 million people across multiple districts with information on GBV laws and response mechanisms.

Challenges and Learnings:

  • Natural disasters like flooding severely disrupted project activities, highlighting the need for flexible planning and resilience strategies. The devastating floods in Nkhotakota in early 2024 underscored the increased vulnerability of GBV survivors during humanitarian crises.
  • Fear of retaliation and community pressure often prevent survivors from pursuing legal action, emphasizing the importance of continued sensitization and support systems.
  • The high illiteracy rate in some communities requires innovative, non-text-based approaches to legal education, such as drama performances and visual materials.
  • Logistical challenges, including lack of proper facilities for GBV service provision and limited transportation options, remind us of the importance of infrastructure development in GBV response.
  • Economic factors, including currency devaluation, significantly impacted project implementation and required budget adjustments.
  • Deeply entrenched patriarchal norms in some communities posed barriers to women’s equal participation and leadership, highlighting the need for long-term cultural change strategies.

Looking Ahead:

We are more committed than ever to bridging the gap between legal promises and reality on the ground. Our experiences in Nkhotakota have shown us the power of locally-led development and the critical importance of sustained community engagement.

In the future, we aim to:

  • Advocate for longer project durations (2-3 years) for more sustainable impact and thorough evaluation.
  • Expand our use of technology, including an Interactive Voice Response system, to make legal information more accessible.
  • Strengthen coordination between community and district-level service providers.
  • Continue to advocate for the full implementation of anti-GBV policies and laws.
  • Focus on sustainability by ensuring knowledge transfer within district departments to mitigate the impact of staff turnover.
  • Explore ways to extend our reach to more remote areas within the district, addressing the geographical barriers to justice.
  • Enhance our partnerships with local media to amplify our message and reach a wider audience.
  • Invest in infrastructure development for GBV service providers, including safe spaces for survivors.

Together with our partners and the resilient communities we serve, we are building a Malawi where justice is accessible to all and where gender-based violence has no place. The journey is long, but with each life touched, each policy improved, and each community empowered, we move closer to our vision of true equality and justice. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Embassy of Iceland in Lilongwe, whose support has made this transformative work possible. Your investment in Malawi’s future creates a ripple of change that will be felt for generations.

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