Dr. Jean Kalilani

She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. Proverbs 31:15, 17, 20, 25-27, 30-31 

In the past two weeks when one looks keenly, women were slighted by the public and media in flagrant, obviously offensive manner. There are times when a slight is made, it can be ignored; however other times, it is difficult to move on as if all is alright, all will work out together for good etc.A woman who later it transpired, is mentally challenged, in the middle of the day undressed and walked around the street in Limbe. To the surprise of onlookers, a group of 14 men sexually assaulted her while others took pictures of the offensive scene and posted the pictures on social media.  

“What is troubling is the fact that the woman has a history of mental challenges and the public violation of the woman’s rights is uncalled for and shows the alarming escalation in glorification of violence against women,”  Minister of Gender and Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Dr. Jean Kalilani said, expressing alarm and grave disdain at the incident. 

Adding that “the conduct of the police officers who handled the case, is deeply concerning, and the people circulating the pictures are participating in a criminal activity,” she pointed out. 

To echo the minister’s words, every Malawian (male or female) has “a right to dignity, privacy, security of their person, and to be safe from any form of street justice.” 

Despite this, women are daily having their rights violated and the wellbeing of women and girls are subject to abuse and exploitation with men mostly as the perpetrators of these violations. 

Lately, almost on a daily basis, reports are highlighted about rape and defilement (sexual assault) of underage girl’s age ranges from 4-14.  

The carnage on girls’ rights and their abuse and exploitation is deplorable and the legal system must come to the protection of all Malawi girls by delivering longer prison sentences to the perpetrators of these heinous acts.

Without taking the entire media into account, the recent Times Group 2016 president and cabinet assessment that presents an analysis of and gives scores on the executive branch of government on its achievements or lack thereof, may be used to underscore the slight that women often endure. 

The score is from zero to ten. While both the president and his vice for 2016 attained a score 5, it is amusing that only two people scored above 5; the rest of the president’s men and women scored five and below. However, the three women got three and two; and marked beyond redemption… 

The 2016 cabinet assessment supplement headlined, “This was calamity,” was published in The Sunday Times of February 12, 2017. 

Minister Grace Chiumia, who is Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, scored 3. However, the other two female ministers, Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development, and Jean Kalilani, Minister of Gender, Children Disability and Social Welfare, each scored 2. The minuscule achievements deserving the low grade of two were for the following achievements: 

Kalilani : has been commended for rescuing Malawian Children from trafficking in South Africa, educating the public against the killing of people with albinism and reaching out to the vulnerable children through the social cash transfer program. 

Kaliati: managed to intensify awareness campaigns on electronic payments and adult literacy programs. 

Oh that the media would have elephant-type memories or archiving system into which its junior staff could research. 

On Kaliati, many of us still recall her 2004 response to a lakeshore resort owner who complained that she brought the media on her surprise tour of resorts in Malawi: “Of course I’ve come with the media, who did you want me to come here with, my husband?” She is the sharp-tongued, hands-on defender of women and girls; and tourism standards. 

 

On Kalilani, who is surprising even the skeptics in her own department, worked fervently and brought back to safety women and girls trafficked into South Africa; another group of women and girls back from Kuwait, in the latter incident negotiating with the Kuwaiti government to help finance the repatriation of the group. 

Both Kaliati and Kalilani have their fingers on the age of marriage law in Malawi, including a unanimous parliamentary vote attained by Kalilani – that is, 100 percent of parliamentarians voting for the Constitutional amendment to harmonize the Constitution with the Marriage law that stipulates the legal age of marriage as 18. 

As I hammer away on this keyboard, the two ministers are in New York, with a delegation at the UN’s second largest gathering of participants at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women. To top the high honor Malawi is enjoying at the global platform, the country was co-host with the UN Women, of the first CSW side event, in a lineup of over 200. The two ministers are called upon frequently to attend and bolster meetings at the session.

 

Both ministers are in New York among their global peers, charting out an international framework that will ensure women and girls get the recognition and pay they deserve in the many hours of unpaid care work they perform. A framework that will eventually be localized in Malawi laws, with grateful thanks to these two champions of women, girls and children’s rights.

 

A cry goes out to men, society, and the media to give women the respect and dignity that they not only have a right to, but also deserve. As Minister Kaliati asked her fellow parliamentarians: think of women or girls as your mothers, sister, daughters… 

A woman or girl is your mother, sister or daughter.

 

Janet Karim
Janet Karim

Janet Zeenat Karim Maravi Post Senior Editor

 

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