By Andrew Kavala
Can Malawians stand up now and be counted in the defense of the rights of older women? This appeal is particularly important now given the level of violence perpetrated against older women that we have witnessed in the recent past. If for nothing else, is it not yet time for every one of us to begin looking at any older woman as our “agogo” (grandma)? Perhaps such an attitude will impose on each one of us the onus to be protectors and defenders of every one of the older women whose innocent lives get lost on frivolous believes and outdated cultural believes that have been overtaken by time.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission acknowledges that there is broad and systematic abuse of older women in the country and plans to step up its advocacy for an end to the violence.
Rising cases of abuses against older women
Although people of all ages have been ostracized, jailed, attacked, and even killed on suspicion of being witches, in Malawi however, older women have borne the brunt of these allegations.
Older women are frequently subjected to one or more forms of violence, abuse and neglect based on their age, gender, and other characteristics. This can be driven by ageism, sexism, the intersection of different characteristics or because of accumulated discrimination across their life course.
Between December 2019 and January 2020, there have been reported many cases of witch-murder in districts across Malawi.
In October, for example, a community in Dedza district stoned to death an older woman on allegations of practicing witchcraft. Three older women were murdered in Karonga district after a local witch doctor pointed fingers at them affirming that they practiced black magic. The killings of the older women are not unique to individuals as this example in Ntchisi where a couple (husband and wife) were lynched on allegations of witchcraft.
When is the end?
Malawi Network of Older Persons’ Organizations (MANEPO), an umbrella body coordinating over 40 civil society organizations and a network member of the HelpAge International whose aim is to help older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty so that they can lead dignified, secure, active, and healthy lives has been calling to an end of violence and abuses perpetrated against older people, especially older women.
Formed in 2013 to strengthen the capacity of the sector to speak with one voice on the rights of older people as well as coordinate activities, MANEPO currently is a 60-member organization, all of who recognize that the war to end the murders of older women on allegations of witchcraft require closer collaboration and building of synergies of efforts and approaches.
MANEPO has lobbied the government and other stakeholders to help in the creation of a better Malawi for older women.
Legal score card
The government of Malawi has made some positive moves on the legal front that could be used as springboard to act. Malawi’s national government has put into place numerous frameworks and systems meant to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. Among them are international agreements, policies, laws, plans, strategies, and guidelines that cover several sectors.
In addition, Malawi is a signatory to several international agreements that address gender-based violence. Despite these, the case of older women being abused keep rising at an alarming rate.
In the interim, MANEPO has engaged the government to form a task force that could investigate the issues of witchcraft allegations and the resultant killings to inform redress mechanism.
However, MANEPO is also aware that the long-term solution so much lie on the behavioural change by Malawians towards the way the perceive ageing. We believe that the ultimate victory against gender-based violence, especially violence against older women can best be won when all citizens became soldiers in the war.
The writer is the Executive Director, Malawi Network of Older People (MANEPO)