Fighting Patriarchy in Malawi Part III


Hope Chigudu and the JASS Southern Africa team gathered Malawian women's stories to give a glimpse of work on the ground in Malawi, the shifts that the women have made to change their lives and the dilemma of monitoring and evaluating the shifts. This series of stories demonstrates that there are parallels and connections, and points of intersection between the oppression of HIV+ women in Malawi, and social and cultural expectation and poverty.  These elements actually overlap and reinforce each other. The failure of the male to live up to the societal and family expectations and the recognition of his own failure is a potentially powerful basis for violence. Dispelling some of the beliefs in Malawi that those who seem to be powerless in the eyes of society will always be powerless, these stories illustrate that once the ‘sleeping giant’ in them is awakened, they will find ways and means to liberate themselves. The rebellion can be straight forward but if that does not work, the women will employ ‘guerrilla tactics’ using the power within’ to resist extreme exploitation, oppression and abuse. Every human being has the capacity to rebel and transgress, to cross the line of oppression but usually a catalyst is required to invoke and politicize the spirit of rebellion.

JASS might not be the catalyst but it provides the tools that act as a stimulus, an awareness of the need for change. It also provides an ambience within which critical thinking can be brought to bear on the individual  environment.  With political awareness each woman crosses her own line when she is ready to do so (line of oppression and exploitation, of what is acceptable or what is not).  No individual human being can cross the critical line for another.

Condescension of the elite: Marvis' story

Every day I felt my mind constantly poisoned by the narrowness of the life that was being imposed on me, its meanness, open or disguised, its artificiality and its hypocrisy. I decided that I would fight and fight I did. 

I come from a remote hilly area with barren soil. Unable to till the infertile soil, most of the year, the community lives its demoralized, ebbing life on food handed out by the government but for us who are HIV positive, we can’t afford to live on handout as such food has no nutrition. I went to see our MP to discuss the issue of land allocation. I was asked by his secretary if I had an appointment and I confessed that I did not.  The secretary asked me to make one and return in two week’s time. I had used the little money I had saved for transport, I had wasted a whole day, and hence I refused to go and return another day as this would mean spending more money. I tried to explain all this but she swore I would not see the MP no matter how long I waited. I knew that she was using hidden power to stop me from meeting the big guy.

She did not know that she was dealing with a Jass ‘graduate’.

I was determined to talk to the MP. I would fight for others with the same tenacity with which I had fought all my life for my own survival and that of my family. I would confront the tyranny and condescension of this ‘Miss official elite’.

Armed with a fighting spirit I decided to wait to see the MP even if it meant following him to his home. I sat in his office, dozed, woke up, dozed and woke up again.  Surely the secretary would go to the toilet, she would go out to get some water and I would rush in her boss’ office.... and this is exactly what happened. As soon as she went to the toilet, I just knocked and without waiting for the MP to invite me in, I opened the door. There was our MP, short with a moustache which he needed to trim, looking as if he’d been at the desk for far too long and should go home.

Two years ago,  this same MP had gone from door to door looking for votes, promising to work with us (power with)  but was now  inaccessible, exercising power over us. I apologised for coming without any appointment, explained that I had been waiting for almost five hours, that I represented a big constitute of  PLWH and I needed to present their views.  I was in the middle of presenting my case when an angry secretary came storming in the room, ready to throw me out. She explained to her boss that I did not have an appointment. The MP told her she should give me a few minutes since I had come from far and was representing many people.  I presented my case, and at the end reminded him that we voted for him.  The rest is a long story but I just wanted to share with you how I managed to handle hidden power.

Today, each member of our group has been allocated a little piece of land, it’s not enough but fighting for it has given us more courage to fight for more.