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Malawi joins hundreds ‘rising up’ against gender violence

(GIN) —  The Girls Empowerment Network Malawi recently joined a global day of action for women worldwide whose message is “We’re proud to be girls. We’re proud to be women. We are not alone in the world.”

The day of action against gender violence, Feb. 14, was marked by women’s groups across Africa and worldwide. The organizer, Eve Ensler, is a feminist activist and author of the play “The Vagina Monologues.” She calls her campaign One Billion Rising for Justice, asking survivors of violence to “break the silence and release their stories — through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word and other testimonies.”

Last year, one billion people in 207 countries rallied to demand an end to violence against women and girls.

While the Malawian girls network hopes to change the lives of young girls and women “so that they grow up in a society that respects, educates and is proud” of them, a newspaper expose of a so-called ritual has dismayed many Malawians.

According to the local Nyasa Times, so-called “cultural practices” or “initiations” are being practiced on girls as young as 7 or 8 in some villages. The so-called “sexual cleansing” rituals teach young girls how to “handle a man.”

“Instead of teaching girls how to remain in school, girls are taught how to be good wives, how to please a man in bed,” said Joyce Mkandawire of the Girls Empowerment Network.  “Those practices are harmful to girls.” The Malawi Human Rights Commission also expressed concern with the practice.

Countries where Rising events will take place this year include Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Iraq, Nepal, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S. Information about Rising events and videos of past events can be found online at onebillionrising.org.

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