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How local communities perceive their rights in rural Malawi

Last updated: 04.06.2015 // In Malawi, 80 percent of the population live in local communities throughout the rural areas. What is their perception of what rights they have, and are their rights met? These were among the questions a mission from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo set out to discuss when visiting Malawi last month. Mariann Murvoll and Andreas Danevad were accompanied by the Norwegian Embassy and UNDP to Njolomole and Zalewa in Ntcheu District, and to Blantyre and Zomba areas.

In Njolomole, community leaders, traditional leaders and community members had gathered to receive the visitors. They engaged in a lively presentation and discussions, which demonstrated how awareness of their rights had increased and made a difference, after introduction of the Democratization Consolidation Programme. The programme is financed partly by the Norwegian Embassy and Irish Aid, and implemented through UNDP in a number of communities in Malawi.

In Njolomolo, community members told how they transformed from being docile and inattentive to corruption practices in the running of local schools, to taking management to task, making sure that their little resources were now used solely to the betterment of education of their children. In addition, the community members had called on the relevant authorities to come a control scales used by traders in their areas and found some to be faulty and always to the disadvantage of the consumers. These traders were then boycotted and some taken to court. The enthusiasm and songs made for motivation showed they had every intent to continue to secure their own rights in these and other areas.

Children engaging in discussions on children's rights

Children engaging in discussions on children's rights

Another of the visits gave insight to the effects of having trained schoolteachers in human rights of children, and on how they can engage. Learners, teachers and parents from Songani Primary School near Zomba met and discussed human rights issues. The discussions with the pupils were quite interesting – just see what they listed as the main challenges to children’s rights in Malawi:

- child labour (in agricultural estates and in market places)
- child abuse
- orphans
- sexual harassment
- poverty

The children also had ambitious hopes and aspirations for the future. Some wanted to become doctors, pilots or lawyers, others wished to become bank managers, ministers or nurses, and one to be a solider.   

Carol Flore of UNDP and Michael Nyirenda and Bjarne Garden of the Norwegian Embassy agreed that rights issues are undoubtedly considered carefully and treated with enthusiastic engagement in Malawi’s rural communities. Once the community members are given awareness and inspiration to kick-start their human rights engagement, they take the opportunity and believe that the community as a whole will benefit. This was apparent to the visitors in Njolomolo, which truly was an inspirational exposure to village life in Malawi.

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