Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Do Social and Cultural Factors Perpetuate Gender Based Violence in Malawi?1

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Do Social and Cultural Factors Perpetuate Gender Based Violence in Malawi?1

Article excerpt


Gender based violence in Malawi exist at a level that requires special acknowledgement. A survey was conducted to assess how social and cultural factors affect gender-based violence in Malawi. The study revealed that both men and women are victims of gender based violence although women bare the brunt of the practice. Men abuse women through battery, use of abusive language, not providing some requirements and overworking them. Women abuse men by not giving them food and engaging in extra marital affairs. The study concluded that there are cultural practices and beliefs that perpetuate gender-based violence and these include "chiongo"-dowry, polygamy, "the notion of household head", male mobility, forced marriage and not having sex with a woman when she is menstruating and during post-partum abstinence which can force a man to have extra-marital sex.

Key Words: socio-cultural factors, women, gender based violence, Malawi


Although violence has been with us since time immemorial, it was only in 1996 that a World Health Assembly resolution (WHA49.25) recognized the increasing importance of violence as a leading worldwide public health problemfWorld Health Organization, 2002). Violence is an extremely complex phenomenon that has its roots in the interaction of many factors- biological, social, cultural, economic and political and is mainly caused by unequal power relations. Gender, social inequalities and inequities are related to many of the risk factors of violence particularly at the societal level. These factors can exacerbate other risk factors that create conditions in which violence can thrive. Conversely increased equality and equity can multiply the effects of protective factors to reduce the level of violence. Recent debate has brought the importance of addressing violence directed at women and girls. Violence against women is "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threat of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life" (United Nations General Assembly, 1993). Violence against women has always been a tactic by which men maintain control over and exploit women's bodies and labor and has been used when a woman does not comply with the perpetrator's wishes or as a means of displacing a man's anger or bolstering his sagging masculinity (Mrsevic & Hughes, 1997).

Violence against women (VAW) is not only a manifestation of unequal power relations between men and women; it is also a mechanism for perpetuating gender inequality. The violence directed at women and girls, simply because they are female, can prevent them from obtaining equal status and full enjoyment of their human rights. As stated in the Beijing Platform for Action, fear of this violence can function as a barrier that limits women's access to opportunities and resources (African Union, 2007). Aside from the more culturally recognized physical and emotional abuse, behaviors such as destruction of property, threats, harassment and ridicule constitute violence against women.

Easteal (1994) reports that there is a complex dynamic interaction between the various beliefs and structures of a culture which is conducive to violence towards women. This is supported by Briere (2004) who identifies socio-cultural factors such as poverty, social inequality and inadequate social support as some of the variables that combine to determine the seriousness of the impact of violence against women. Furthermore, Ibekwe (2007) reported that in some countries there are some cultural and traditional laws that negate women's rights which in one way or the other promotes violence against women. In such countries one may argue that violence against women has been institutionalized.

Bisika, Ntata, and Konyani (2008) reported that there are men who believe that they can be cured of AIDS if they had sex with a virgin and also that some men believe that they could get rich if they had sex with their daughters on recommendation from a traditional healer. …

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