UNICEF data shows that about one in five girls in Malawi have experienced some kind of sexual violence. The sexual assault Malawian girls face is compounded by the fact that the perpetrators mostly face no consequences for their untoward actions.
The lack of consequences is tied to the fact that some cultural norms and taboos encourage these sexual assaults; most of the victims are scared to report the abuse and ask for the support that they need and the perpetrators are often sheltered in the culture that esteems men more important than women.
In 2014 a charity called Ujamaa came on the scene in Malawi to put some power back in the hands of Malawian girls. They started going to schools to teach self-defense and self-awareness classes to the children.
Now, the UN’s Children’s Fund is partnering with that charity and is financing the program that teaches schoolgirls self-defense tactics. The lessons that Ujamaa, which is actually a Kenyan charity, teaches include physical skills such as punches and jabs, as well practical skills such as distracting their assailants and running for safety.
VOA reports that over the past year, 25,000 schoolgirls have been trained in the program. According to them, the self-defense lessons last for two hours every week over a six-week period and are held across seven districts in the country.
The Ujamaa program started off in Kenya and the charity claims that rape incidents in the country dropped by half in schools where girls have undergone the training. Since the training began in Malawi, reports of cases of sexual assault in Malawi have increased and that is actually a good thing.
It is a good thing because like Rebecca Msalanyama, a teacher involved in the training program, puts it; “In the past, girls were not reporting it but now they are indeed empowered to report abuses. Some are reporting the incidents to us teachers and others to their parents for action.”
Along with Malawian girls, the training also targets boys, teaching them how to intervene if they witness cases of assault.
In fact Ujamaa’s project coordinator, Simang’aliso Domoya, says that the aim of the project is to “reduce incidents of rape” and also promote discussions to reduce the rates of “early marriages, school drop-outs and also early pregnancies” in Malawi.