Living in a world where sexual assault is a reality of daily life, young girls in Malawi are beginning to fight back, quite literally. A growing campaign of self-defense and women’s rights is growing in Malawi, hoping to break the years of fear, injustice, and rape of young women. Combined with the ongoing support of local defense groups, fellow students, and proper training of how to defend one’s self, the youth of Malawi are on a mission to end violence against women.
History of Malawi Violence
UNICEF reported that one out of five girls in Malawi have been subject to some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Country Representative for Malawi, stated in the report, “It is sometimes too easy to get bogged down in percentages and rates of abuse resulting in desensitization of the sheer number of children who have suffered violations. 7 percent of girls suffering forced or pressured sex during their childhoods means that approximately 315,000 girls were defiled. 6.5 percent of boys being physically abused to the point that they suffered broken or permanent injury equates to nearly 300,000 victims. Every child has a right to enjoy a safe and protected environment both at school and home.”
Another major obstacle the region faces is that it’s not just the men of Malawi that believe it’s okay to sexually assault young women, but it is believed that 42% of women accept that it is okay for their husband to beat them under certain circumstances and that a woman should even tolerate the beatings to keep their family together.
How Self Defense Is Saving Young Women
But not all women see eye-to-eye on this topic and for those who do not, a new form of defense is beginning to take hold in Malawi. Self-defense techniques have been around for thousands of years, and while they normally cater to men, women have begun to take more of an interest over the years, including the women of Malawi.
Kenyan Charity, Ujamaa, has taken the success of self-defense in their region and offers training for those in need across several adjacent countries, including Malawi. Alinafe Kambalane highlights, “We teach these girls that they don’t have to fight using knives, stones. No, they use the parts of their body that they were born with. As you can see, the girls are hitting the groins of the assailant, so that they can get away.”
Fazani, a 14 year old student, is also a self-defense advocate, telling of her struggle with safety and how she was afraid of older men following her, calling to her, and harassing her while she was on her way to school. Even admitting that she told her parents about the incidents but they failed to do anything about it.
Now, Fazani walks to school in confidence, emphasizing, “These classes are really helpful because, if I come across attackers, I will be able to defend myself. I now tell people ‘no’ and that I will tell an adult.”
Countless stories are told of young women being harassed, abused, and assaulted while trying to go about their daily lives. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and now more stories are beginning to emerge of young women standing up against their assailants, using their new defense skills, confidence, and support system to change the way a culture and country thinks about women’s rights.