When a boy is born in rural Malawi, you will hear loud nthugururu (ululation) emanating from the room where the child was born. The birth attendants are overjoyed because a boy is the owner of the land; they are like a king. But when a girl is born there is no loud celebration. No herald announcing their birth. There is only the sombre acknowledgement that mwanakazi munyithu wababika; a fellow woman has been born.
In rural Malawi, gender discrimination begins at birth, but it never really ends. In every stage of life, women are seen as inferior and subordinate to men and SGBV is an accepted part of life.
Malawi ranks a low 145/188 on the Gender Inequality Index, reflecting the fact that for women there are high levels of inequality and violence throughout every sphere of life. According to UNICEF, 65 per cent of all girls experience child abuse. Of those that are enrolled in school, only 29 per cent will complete their primary education, dropping out because their parents have other plans for them. Nearly half will be married before they are 18, often to older men, and sometimes given to pay off family debts. 29 per cent of adolescent girls (15-19) will bear children and get an early start on lives of domestic subjugation under their husband-kings.
From complete economic dependence to unequal household responsibilities; from beliefs that a man with HIV can rape a virgin to cleanse himself, through to beating your wife is a loving way to correct her; from practices such as polygamy to seizing land from widows; Malawi is a difficult place to live as a woman. In a recent survey, half of all respondents maintained that most or all young men in their districts sometimes pressure or force young women to have sexual relations.
In the last twelve months, a quarter of all women in Malawi will have experienced intimate partner violence. It is just the norm here for girls and women to suffer at the hands of men.