Florida Eliya, 25, of Thawalawa village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Malemia, aspires to become a nurse and believes education is solution to her family’s poverty.
All smiles Florida (in white blouse) and Duma Mapemba
A borehole that was planted in Group Village Zimodya after engaging Neno Council officials.J
Florida Eliya returned to school after her baby
A child captured drawing water from the borehole.
She returned to school after nursing her child for five years, thanks to Wolrecgender forums/women’s groups in the area.
Initially, Florida got pregnant in 2009 when she was in form two and failed to sit for that year’s Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) examination, adding more misery to her family.
As a result, she was forced into early marriage, a marriage that eventually became awful as she was subjected to domestic violence.
“I then realized that I made a mistake by getting pregnant, but there was nothing I could do as parents were not ready to keep me in their house,” recalls Florida, the sixth born in the family 10.
She says poverty is what made them not live happily as they could hardly for the baby and life became more unbearable for when her husband dumped her and sneaked out of the country for greener pasture in South Africa.
“He has never communicated since he left the village in 2010 so I decided to go back home,” says Florida, who owes her bold decision to return to school to gender forums/women groups that were formed in her area in 2012 by Women’s Legal Resources Centre (WOLREC) with funding from Dan ChurchAid.
Similar gender forums/women groups were established in Neno district after a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) established gender imbalances in these districts.
These women groups/gender forums were formed in 30 villages in T/As Malemia and Tengani in Nsanje and T/A Mlauli in Neno district.
With advice from some members of the women groups, Florida resolved to return to school. In 2013, she enrolled for form one at Chekelele Community Day Secondary and sat for 2015 Junior Certificate Junior Certificate Education (JCE) examination.
“I still need to get educated. I have been struggling to raise funds for the basic needs and learning materials. However, I get support from the women, who are committed to keeping girls in schools,” says Florida, who largely advises young girls in the area so that should not find themselves in her situation.
Likewise, Etinala Ndawala of Thawalawa village, T/A Malemia also concurs with Florida saying the women groups have encouraged girls, who are prone to unwanted pregnancies and early marriages, to remain in school.
She claims that communities have also been empowered with knowledge and advocacy capacity on human rights, gender, economic and political governance.
The women groups also encourage communities to engage or take to task the duty-bearers to ensure effective and efficient delivery of all public services in the districts, according to Ndawala.
“Communities are now able to demand services and development projects from duty bearers. We are also working hand in hand with village development committees (VDCS) and traditional leaders in addressing people’s needs,” she says.
Likewise, Group village Headman Zimodya in Traditional Authority Mlauli, Neno district, claims that Wolrec project has enhanced women participation in community development activities, apart from reducing gender based violence in their homes.
“For instance, we had water problems in this area; there was no any borehole, so the community, with advice from Wolrec women groups, went to district council offices where they amicably engaged duty bearers until the problem were solved and we have several boreholes in this area.
“Village banking initiatives have economically empowered women who saw some significance in such schemes. Women are now being consulted on critical issues and have gained respect from their spouses,” says Group Village Headman Zimodya.
The Dan ChurchAid funded project was mainly rolled out to promote and enhance women’s citizenship action and participation in political and decision making process in Nsanje and Neno districts, according to Jean Kumwenda, Wolrec district coordinator for Neno.
Kumwenda revealed that they wanted to advance the right to participation of rural poor women while ensuring that their citizenship participation in democratic space is protected.
“We facilitated the formation of these women groups to ably lobby and advocate for improvement of the situation of women’s representation in local bodies in the districts and national levels,” she says.
Kumwenda further said they launched the project after establishing that despite being in majority; women’s participation in political and decision making process was still low.
She said Wolrec believes that one of the effective ways of ensuring that governance structures are able to respond effectively to women’s issues is to involve the women themselves in governance and other leadership positions.
“Participation influences decision-making, ownership, accountability, more equitable access and control over resources. Thus participation also fosters development in the sense of ownership in initiatives towards sustainable development.
“In this regard, women are in groups that are assisting them in developing skills that would enable them to participate effectively in political and decision-making processes,” says Kumwenda, adding that they also aimed at empowering women economically so that they have secure livelihoods.
Economically empowered women do also have the guts to contest for different public positions, according to her.
“Studies have found that women are hindered from contesting because of lack of adequate resources. It is, therefore, the view of WOLREC that as much as women will be empowered with rights knowledge and other skills for public participation, they should also be economically empowered,” she emphasizes.