The Malawi Police Service (MPS), in conjunction with various stakeholders, held a consultative meeting on the prevention and response to harmful cultural practices.
Amongst the stakeholders present at the meeting which took place in Nsanje, were Chiefs, Traditional Authorities (T/A’s), representatives of the clergy, members of Nsanje Interfaith Aids Committee, Malawi care representative, National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) representative, the District Educational Officer (DEM), District Information Officer, and members of the press, among others.
In his remarks, senior chief Malemia of Nsanje thanked MPS for coming up with this initiative, considering the crucial issue at hand pertaining to harmful cultural practices in the country.
Addressing the gathering, representing the Inspector General, Mr. D. Chipao who is the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), said the aim of the meeting was to work together as one with the stakeholders and the general public in order to make Malawi a better place as far as cultural beliefs are concerned.
Chipao further enlightened that, it was necessary to come together and brainstorm on the best ways to overcome challenges resulting because of various cultural beliefs being practiced across the country.
“These harmful practices are considered as such mainly because they are regarded as one of the ways how HIV and Aids is spread and they also have more impacts especially on women,” the DCP said.
In order to set the ball rolling on the main agenda of the meeting, a reference on these cultural beliefs that are considered harmful was made, citing a report that shows that in Nsanje there are more of these harmful cultural, including, kupitamoto, kulowakufa, kusasafumbi, mwambo wa fisi and thika, amongst other various practices.
A number of issues were discussed during the meeting and questions were asked in order to clear things up regarding these harmful cultural beliefs. In response to as to whether these practices are really taking place, if yes, are they harmful and what could be done to stop these practices? Senior chief Malemia denied that these practices were still taking place in the district.
To further explain his stand, Malemia said that, as chiefs they have been on the forefront since 2012 to abolish these malpractices and he explained that to show how serious they were with the effort, the various chiefs from all corners of Malawi signed an agreement to seize these harmful practices.
“As a strategy, there is need of modification to make these practices less harmful; citing an example of Jando cultural practice which has since been modified to medical circumcision,” concluded Malemia.
Commenting on the same, Mr. Mvula, a representative of sustainable rural community development organisation, suggested that completely abolishing a harmful culture is very difficult but rather finding safe ways of practicing these cultural beliefs was very essential.
Further brainstorming on the issue, Reverend Makwenemba said that, religiously, they have been discouraging these harmful acts and he bared witness that these practices have slowly phased out, as people have realised their impact, giving an example that some years back, chiefs would coercively make people practice these beliefs but now they totally discourage them.
Other members of the meeting dwelled much on the fact that, according to the laws of Malawi, citizens in a particular set up, have the right to take part in these cultural practices as long as they are not harmful. This is why therefore, chiefs are everyday making effort in trying to make their people practice good cultural beliefs. Adding that, it is important to bear in mind the behavioral change does not happen overnight, it is a long term process.
They additionally said it was important to consider sensitizing the people at grass root level, messages concerning the needed change must be taken to the remotest areas, urging government institutions, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), companies and other actors involved in the cause and effort to disseminate the necessary information to the grass root level in order to overcome this challenge.
Proposed solutions from the members of the meeting were, continuous sensitization on behavioral change, arrests of those in conflict with the law regarding to harmful cultural practices, modification of the harmful cultural practices, research to establish evidence of these harmful cultural practices and cultural diffusion, amongst other.