Start them young: schools empowered to change social and gender norms in Malawi
Over three million people, including thousands of boys and girls, can better recognize and report gender-based violence in Malawi. Photo: UNICEF Malawi.
In Malawi, UNICEF is working with the Government, community organizations and media partners to raise awareness about violence against women and girls (VAWG), with large-scale collaborations with educators and young people in schools. Three million people were sensitized to VAWG and harmful social and gender norms through media campaigns, literacy sessions and school programmes in 2020. A total of 13,000 boys have been trained to recognize, respond to and report VAWG. Over 100 trained head teachers and other educators in schools have so far identified and referred 941 cases of VAWG to the authorities.
"We believe that boys possess the ability and desire to treat women respectfully but condone and commit acts of sexual violence in response to immense social and community pressures." - Janet Liabunya, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Malawi
Efforts to eradicate harmful social and gender norms are underway on a large scale in Malawi under the Spotlight Initiative. Malawi is characterized by a high prevalence of VAWG, including child marriage. While some practices that are common elsewhere in the region, such as FGM, are uncommon in Malawi, related practices, such as labia stretching, have a high prevalence in over 50 per cent of Malawian communities. Malawi also features among the 20 countries with the highest incidence of intimate partner violence. The prevalence of traditional practices such as child marriage and sexual initiation rituals have remained mostly unchanged over the last 15 years, even though they have been falling globally. A large number of mass educational programmes in Malawi under the Spotlight Initiative have reached almost 3 million people through jingles on television and radio, and through schools. Schools are a critical space where children develop social relationships, and where they learn and enact social and gender norms and behaviours. Schools, therefore, hold enormous potential to promote more equitable norms, particularly through the widely neglected entry point: male attitudes and behaviours.
“The programme, Hero In Me (HIM), uses a widely underused entry point on the problem of discriminatory social and gender norms: the attitudes and behaviours of men and boys. We believe that boys possess the ability and desire to treat women respectfully but condone and commit acts of sexual violence in response to immense social and community pressures," says Janet Liabunya, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Malawi.
A total of 18,180 study materials such as booklets and comic books have been distributed to 180 schools in Spotlight Initiative districts, increasing knowledge of child protection among children, teachers, parents and child protection workers. Alongside the materials, children participated in literacy sessions which taught them what their rights are, how to claim and defend their rights and how to identify harmful or violent practices. Children with a strong grasp of these concepts are now educating their peers, increasingly normalizing these concepts. As the programme has advanced, stories of children who received protection from violent or harmful situations are now being shared during literacy sessions in schools and through booklets distributed in the communities where the children live with their families. As a result, 212,262 adolescents from six districts are now able to recognize violence and can report violence to relevant authorities for action and redress.
The Spotlight Initiative trained 13,308 boys on positive social and gender norms, how to report violence against women and girls and what to expect from the process of making such reports.
Partnering with Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa and the Ministry of Education, the Spotlight Initiative trained 13,308 boys on positive social and gender norms, how to report VAWG and what to expect from the process of making such reports. The boys have learned to recognize violence, abuse and exploitation in their school environments and in their communities. Through preparation and practice, the boys-in-training were taught to cultivate use of their own voice and their personal power to stand up to VAWG. This approach is in striking contrast to the silence they are otherwise raised to maintain while violence is perpetrated around them with impunity.