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Who Broke Over 2,500 Child Marriages

Theresa Kachindamoto remembers the first early marriage she ended, days after becoming the first female Chieftain of her people, the Ngoni, in Malawi. it had been a trivial spectacle until one among the women left the sport to breastfeed her baby.

“I was shocked,” Kachindamoto recalls. “It hurt me. The mother was 12, but she lied to me, assuring me she was 13.” Theresa Kachindamoto alerted the elders who had appointed her chief about the case of the young mother named Cecilia. They said: “Ah yes, it’s very common here, but now that you’re the boss, you’ll be able to do whatever you want.” So Theresa Kachindamoto called off the marriage and sent the young mother back to school. it had been in 2003.

The boss paid the teenager’s school fees until the end of high school. Today Cecilia runs a grocery. Whenever she visits her, says Theresa Kachindamoto, “she always comes [to me] saying, ‘Thank you Chief, thank you!’”
The Chieftain, now 60, has since ended 2,549 unions and sent as many girls back to school.

The context of gender parity within the world

Kachindamoto is one among many voices advocating for women’s rights around the world. “A woman’s voice may be a revolution,” chanted protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. A slogan is taken from a 2013 campaign against rape and sexual abuse to interrupt the silence that always serves the established order — in Egypt and, because the #MeToo movement has shown, elsewhere on the earth.

In recent years, women have felt freer to criticize men’s wrongdoing, prompting a worldwide debate on sexism, misogyny, and therefore the power dynamics to which women are subjected.

In some ways, our world remains a man’s world. But, from the political arena thereto of the humanities, women are working to vary things at the local level. Their mission covers several fronts: government institutions, workplace and residential, militant initiatives within the street, and, finally, the power to inform their own story and shape the society during which they live.

In countries like Rwanda and Iraq, legislative quotas have ensured a robust presence of girls in parliament. However, in Malawi, as in other African countries that lack legislative mandates for better representation of girls, change is brewing on the bottom.

But it rarely goes easily. The patriarchal established order runs deep, especially in authoritarian states where challenging the system comes at a high price, whether male or female. Today, no country within the world can claim to possess achieved gender parity.

But there are significant variations within an equivalent region (Subsaharan Africa). Two sub-Saharan states are within the top ten countries achieving gender parity: Rwanda (6th) and Namibia (10th). Rwanda’s good score is primarily thanks to the generation of women-friendly laws passed after the devastating genocide of 1994.

A stronghold of tradition

When she first started in her new position, Theresa Kachindamoto encountered resistance (including death threats) from lower-ranking chiefs, village chiefs, and chiefs of equivalent status as her. She says other chieftains have told her: “This culture has been passed on to us in order that we will still practice it. Who are you to vary it?”

When he was chief, her father had already tried, in vain, to ban the ritual of initiation of women. But the fear of AIDS in a country where one in eleven adults is infected with HIV has helped Theresa in her efforts. She also banned early marriage and sent girls back to high school long before Malawi passed a law raising the majority for marriage from 15 to 18 in 2015. Two years later, an amendment put the Constitution in accordance with the new law.

At first, says Theresa Kachindamoto, since people didn’t want to concentrate on her, she started a band that took advantage of the tours to convey her message against early marriage and sexual initiation rituals to the general public. She has since issued orders against these practices in her jurisdiction and publicly expelled leaders who administered the traditions. At an equivalent time, she appointed some 200 women to positions of responsibility. So I changed the culture.”

For instance, in her agricultural region, school fees are a big obstacle for women to continue school: “I spoke to the teachers and said to them: If these girls don’t pay anything, don’t send them away because, if you are doing so, their parents will take them straight to a husband.”

Theresa isn’t the sole Malawian woman fighting to free little girls from a life in hell. But, despite national laws and native decrees prohibiting this practice, it still considerably exists today. As a result, many ladies in Malawi and Subsaharan Africa are still subjected to a life they didn’t ask for.

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