From where I stand: Elizabeth Chatuwa
Child marriage is a very big problem in Malawi. As soon as a girl reaches puberty, everyone thinks she is ready for marriage. Girls are dropping out of school to get married. This country has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world—one out of two girls are married before the age of 18.
In 2014, I visited a rural community in the Mangochi district, where I met a 14-year-old girl, Chikondi, already married and with a baby in her arms. I asked her why she had gotten married. She said, her parents married her off to an older man so that he could support her and her family. It was heartbreaking!
Last year, eight of our Girl Guide trainers participated in a workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, organized by WAGGGS and UN Women, and learned how to use the Voices against Violence curriculum to stop violence against women and girls. They came back to Malawi and trained me and others. The curriculum helps girls understand what is violence, how to speak out against it and seek support when they experience violence.
But we can’t end child marriage by only teaching the girls. We have to talk to parents, community leaders and counselors so that they realize this is illegal and wrong. We have to engage men—they have the decision-making powers.
After we met Chikondi in Mangochi, our Girl Guide group went back to talk to her parents. It took some time, but eventually we were able to convince them to bring their daughter home and send her back to school.
When you stop violence against girls, they can change this world for better.”
Elizabeth Chatuwa, 28, has been a Girl Guide since she was 10 years old. Today, she is the District Youth Commissioner for the Malawi Girl Guides Association. She mentors girls and assists youth leaders in delivering programmes, including the Voices against Violence curriculum, developed jointly by UN Women and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, to make girls and young women aware of their rights, to prevent child marriage and other forms of violence and to encourage girls to stay in school. Her work contributes directly towards Sustainable Development Goal 5 and its target on ending all forms of violence against women and girls, including child, early and forced marriage. It also contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its target on ending violence against children.
Read more stories in the “From where I stand...” editorial series.