Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Family Planning and HIV/AIDS Information and Services in Malawi

Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Family Planning and HIV/AIDS Information and Services in Malawi

Leafing through Malawi’s Nation newspaper, the headline, “wild men in society escalating rape cases” jumps off the page. I pause and stare at the accompanying photo and caption which alerts readers that “even school (girls) as this one are not safe.” According to the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2004, one in three women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.

Like many of the headlines I’ve read in Malawi, the storyline is explicit. It is difficult to read about young women and children who have experienced rape or defilement, but the story draws attention to the potential consequences of such an offense. And in Malawi, this is a serious deterrent.

The Community-based Family Planning and HIV & AIDS Services (CFPHS) project, led by MSH, worked to address gender-based violence in Malawi through behavior change communication activities. The behavior change communication activities, led by Population Services International (PSI), an MSH partner, educated and empowered women to know there is recourse for the violence.

CFPHS worked to integrate gender-based violence into the training for volunteer community health workers – also known as community-based distribution agents (CBDAs).  A focus group discussion in T.A. Kalembo revealed that in Malawi: “Nkhani ya nkhaza yafika poti ikutherako. Anthu ali ndi mantha” -- the issues of gender-based violence have reduced because people are afraid (of consequences).

Training volunteers in hard to reach areas is critical -- especially since rural women are more likely to have suffered from physical violence than their urban counterparts. Furthermore, the DHS 2004 reports that among currently married women who have experienced physical violence, the majority reported either a current or previous husband as the perpetrator.

After reading the Nation article, I search for the gender-based violence "training of trainers" manual used by CFPHS. I’m caught by the module, “the role of CBDAs/health providers in addressing the linkage between gender-based violence and family planning and HIV/AIDS.”

The examples in the module include: undertake couples counseling as opposed to individual counseling to help men understand the importance and need to access and use family planning methods; encourage good interpersonal skills for partners to discuss and negotiate for family planning; and do not criticize men for their behavior but let them understand that gender-based violence in any form is not acceptable.

Even after the project's completion in September 2011, community-based distribution agents trained by CFPHS continue to provide counseling services on a voluntary basis. With the additional gender-based violence training module -- and hard-to-read newspaper articles — more communities are gaining knowledge about the form, magnitude, causes and consequences of gender-based violence.

Hillary Anderson is a MSH Communications Intern in Malawi.