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Religious beliefs said to fuel gender-based violence in Malawi

A social researcher for the Malawi Council of Churches says religious beliefs that wives should be submissive to their husbands, "as if to the Lord", are fuelling gender-based violence in the country.

He cited a recent occurrence in which a woman had her hands chopped off and another was killed for refusing to have sex with her HIV-infected husband.

An official from the church council, Gerald Chigona, asserted that according to the instructions girls receive on occasions like pre-wedding bridal parties, girls are advised against opposing traditions and practices that degrade them.

"The focus seems to be on transforming girls into subservient and servant-like partners to a man," Chigona said while presenting a paper on religious tradition and gender-based violence in southern Malawi’s lake district of Mangochi.

He said the payment of a dowry, a bride price paid by the family of a husband, also contributes to the degradation of women and he said that this to a certain extent promotes gender-based violence.

"In patrilineal societies for example, a bride price translates into the loss of not only security, but also personal history since a woman by tradition ceases to belong to her biological family," said Chigona whose work on traditions and religions is known in and outside Malawi. He argued that apart from the loss of a name and identity, a woman in marriage generally ceases to be known by any other name than that of her husband.

"All this shows a sad inconsistency in ethical standards and value accorded to man and woman in marriage. The balance of power in a family tends to tilt in favour of male spouses and this tends to receive support from the scriptures," Chigona said.

He said Malawians have of late been calling on churches in the country to help address gender-based violence that has maimed and killed some women, while young girls have been deliberately infected with HIV.

Chigona cited the case of Marietta Samuel who lies in a hospital in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, with both her arms chopped off by a man she married. She was punished for asking for a divorce after wanting to put a stop to being used as a punch bag.

(c) Ecumenical News International