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December 22, 2015

Change Starts With Us: Girls Empowerment Network, Malawi

Mama Cash grantee Girls Empowerment Network, Malawi reflects on the ingredients for impact

Mama Cash’s grantee partners are doing amazing work for women, girls, and trans people in their communities and around the world. In an eleven part series, we will share some of these inspiring stories of change. This is the story of Girls Empowerment Network, Malawi.

Founded in 2008, the Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) Malawi is a feminist organisation and a grassroots movement of girls and young women who are passionate about making a difference in their society. GENET works to end traditional practices that are harmful for girls, such as early and forced marriage, denial of education, exclusion from participation in public life, rituals like sexual initiation, and other forms of violence against girls.

GENET focuses on strengthening and amplifying girls’ and young women’s voices by empowering them to be advocates for—and to claim—their rights. The organisation operates both at local and national levels, forming networks of girls and young women, developing leadership, providing public and civic education on girls’ and women’s rights, and engaging in advocacy. The group explains: “We want to engage every girl. We want every girl to know . . . about her rights, about this movement, about her agency. We want every girl to say no to early marriage. We want every girl to act.” GENET received its first grant from Mama Cash in 2009.

The Challenge

The practice of child marriage, particularly girl marriage, is widespread in Malawi. It is estimated that about 50% of girls in Malawi marry before the age of 18. Many parents arrange marriage for their daughters because they feel it is in both the girls’ best interest, as well as that of the family. Where poverty is acute, especially in rural areas, marrying off a daughter allows parents to reduce expenses. In communities where a bride price is paid, marriage provides a welcome source of income.

In addition to early, forced, or coerced marriage, the rights of girls in Malawi are frequently violated by other harmful traditional practices. For both economic and social reasons, many adolescent girls leave school early: their education is not considered important and marriage is seen as the ultimate goal for them. They also face the risk of violence in school. Prior to the founding of GENET, these issues, while on the development agenda, were not being addressed by girls and young women themselves. Girls, echoing the beliefs of their communities, did not know their rights and were not collectively resisting rights violations.

To continue the story, please read the PDF