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On this Friday evening, Osman Leonard had retired to bed early. The 23-year-old had just returned from hospital with her mother, who recently suffered a stroke. Due to the stroke, her left side is paralyzed and she can’t walk on her own. Osman had to carry her almost half of the journey to the hospital, which left him very tired.

Barely some minutes after he had dosed off, Osman woke up with a start. There was a commotion outside. When he got out of the house, a crowd had already gathered.  He later learnt from the crowd that his neighbour had come home drunk, and started beating his wife.

Inside the house, Osman could hear cries for help. He had to do something.

“I am a male champion and my role is to ensure that we end gender based violence in my community,” narrates Osman, a member of Tizisunge youth club in Mangochi.

His neighbour, was well known for his violent behaviour. Even the crowd outside his house were afraid to stop him.

“From one of the training we had,” says Osman, “We learnt that we can always seek for help from other structures if we don’t have capacity to handle the issue.”

Osman attending a meeting at Tizisunge youth club ©UNFPA/Joseph Scott

And Osman just did that. He ran to the house of the community policing chairperson, who lives about a kilometre away from his village, to report the matter. The community policing chairperson mobilized five men, and together, they rushed back and apprehended the wife batterer.

“We had to break the door to rescue the woman,” says Osman, adding, “In the morning, we handed the man over to the police.”

The incident is one of the many Osman and members of Tizisunge youth club deal with every day. In Mangochi, and Malawi in general, cases of violence against women and girls are extremely high.

Fighting gender based violence

According to the most recent 2016 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 34 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 reported experiencing physical violence, 14 percent sexual violence, and 23 percent emotional violence in the 12-month period preceding the survey.

UNFPA Representative Ms. Young Hong in a discussion with members from Tizisunge youth club  ©UNFPA/Joseph Scott

“In our culture, men are allowed to have more than one wife,” says Osman. “But many don’t have the means to support the wives. The result is stress, which then leads to emotional and as well as physical abuse of their spouses.”

In the 20-member group, 12 are women. And one of the women is Pauline Mambo (24). Together with her female colleagues, they help sensitize the community, especially women and girls on different types of gender based violence.

“There are some cases where women may not open up when there are males,” says Pauline. “That’s where we come in. We record such cases and then make necessary referrals based on the seriousness of the issue.”

In the past month, Tizisunge youth club have investigated more than 10 cases of gender based violence.

“Some of the issues we worked were more serious cases such as rape,” explains Pauline. “For such serious cases, we let the police take the lead. Our role is to facilitate medical tests, and to follow up on the cases, if they are being prosecuted.”

Taking men on board in GBV fight

Last year, Tizisunge youth club benefitted from trainings supported by UNFPA, with funding from the Government of Iceland. Under the Advancing Adolescent Girls and Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Mangochi project, UNFPA engaged Brothers 2 Brothers (B2B), to strengthen the capacity of the Tizisunge youth group to engage males in fighting sexual gender based violence.

Pauline says men are now taking an active role to fight GBV ©UNFPA/Joseph Scott

This saw the creation of a platform for men and boys where issues of gender roles, masculinity and sexual and reproductive health and rights are discussed. Last year, the project reached out to 855 men and boys. The men and boys, with support from community leaders, are now working as change agents who are raising awareness on family planning, gender-based violence and speaking against other harmful practices.

“We are seeing a change in how men perceive women in our communities,” says Pauline. “The gender fight is not only for women, but for all of us. Men and boys are now our allies in the fight.”

Joseph Scott, Communications Analyst