Let us stop thinking that it is normal

Using the law to unmask gender-based violence and inequality in rural Malawi

Frank Mgungwe is a Deputy Headmaster at Malomo Community Secondary School in rural Malawi. He is doing his Masters in Law with the University of London through a Canon Collins scholarship.

Frank was the first winner of 2021’s quarterly Essay Competition with a piece that explores the role of empathy in activism through the lens of the remarkable life of Malawi’s answer to Mother Theresa, Sister Beatrice Chipeta.

With the inspiration of this role model at top of mind, Frank proceeded to have an exemplary year himself. Read below about Frank’s 2021.

Let us stop thinking that it is normal

When Frank started studying the law it was in the hope that he could use his legal education to advocate for local bylaws under chiefs ensuring that every child attends school. With his deep passion for meaningful change and justice in his community, that perspective has become more and more concerned with gender equality.

There is a high dropout rate in Malawi, especially for girls; so Frank established and mobilised a Mother’s Group of women from 33 villages to support their daughters’ schooling. Frank and the mothers use every power within their means to prevent child marriage and return girl dropouts to school through mentoring, counselling and community support.

Many of the assumptions about the subjugation of women are deep-rooted. Frank and the mothers arrange community-wide dialogues that unmask harmful gender norms and violence against women and girls. The key message is “Tileke kuganiza kuti ndimmene zimakhalila” meaning ‘let us stop thinking that it is normal’.

Most of the mothers are functionally illiterate, but together they engage in several entrepreneurial activities to raise support for needy girls to complete their secondary education. The mothers farmd land allocated to them by the school to cultivate a crop of potatoes that yields about £300 (Malawian Kwacha K320,000.00) per harvest. The mothers are also cultivating school orchards of 350 Acacia trees and 50 fruit trees.

With the money they have raised, the mothers are funding the education of Chisomo, an orphan who cannot afford food, let alone school fees.

The impact of Frank’s studies has been felt many times over in his community. He has gone about his work in a way that brings the community, its stakeholders and leaders along for the journey. Most importantly the women of Malomo feel empowered as parents, breadwinners and leaders.

In 2021, Frank was recognised by his Canon Collins peers for the work he is doing with rural Malawian women and won the CCT Change Maker Award, which provided a vital injection of £1,000 in additional funds.