In Malawi, justice at last for a survivor of domestic violence

A young woman stands against a brick wall with her arm in a cast
Just 24 years old, Anna Salima has survived two abusive husbands. She managed to escape with her life thanks to support from the Spotlight Initiative. Photo: UNFPA Malawi
March 21, 2023

NKHATA BAY, Malawi — Anna Salima, 24, has painful memories of her two marriages. With her first marriage, it took her just a week to realize she had married the wrong man. Yet she stayed for five years, enduring verbal and physical abuse, as she hoped her husband would change.

After their first child was born, she couldn’t stand it any longer and returned to her parents’ home. She was bitter from the abuse she suffered and vowed never to marry again. It wasn’t long before another man began promising her a marriage made in heaven.

“He seemed to be somewhat different from my first husband,” she says. “He was so kind and caring, I thought of giving him a chance.”

Within a few months of meeting, the two became engaged. A traditional wedding ceremony followed and Ms. Salima forgot about the pains of her first marriage. But not for long. 

"I was bleeding heavily. The only place I knew I would be safe was at the Community Victim Support Unit." - Anna Salima, 24

A few months after they married, her new husband questioned why she wasn’t yet pregnant.

“I pointed out that it may be his problem, as I already had children from my first marriage,” she says. “This didn’t go down well with him. He became moody and started drinking excessively.”

His heavy drinking foreshadowed the horrors Ms. Salima was to face.

“This one day, he came back home totally drunk. We had a minor disagreement and he pulled a knife, threatening to stab me,” she says. “Luckily, my sister was around and she intervened.”

Things improved a little when Ms. Salima became pregnant. After two years, she delivered a second child in her new marriage, yet by then her husband was drinking regularly and heavily.

When she returned from the field one day, she found her husband sitting on the veranda in a sour mood. At times like this, she made a point of avoiding confrontations with him.

“He asked for food and I prepared a meal for him,” she recollects. “After that, he said he wanted to sleep with me but I pleaded that I was tired. He tried to drag me into the house and I refused.”

In anger, her husband stormed off and returned with a machete. He struck her arm twice with the powerful blade before she managed to flee, with him in pursuit.

“I was bleeding heavily,” she says. “The only place I knew I would be safe was at the Community Victim Support Unit (CVSU). I ran as fast as I could, and he eventually became tired and stopped pursuing me.”

At the CVSU, she explained what had happened to her. Because she was badly injured and had no means to access essential services, the CVSU contacted the Community Fund Committee (CFC), which agreed to release funds for her to get the urgent medical treatment she needed. The CFC forms part of the Spotlight Initiative, which supports GBV survivors with resources to access health services and the judicial system.

“At the health centre, they said my wound was severe and I was referred to Nkhata Bay district hospital,” she says. Because of the extent of her injuries from the machete, she came close to losing her hand. “They put plaster of paris on my arm and told me to come back for a check-up in two months.”

"I am thankful for the support. Without it, I couldn’t have made it to the court sessions." - Ms. Salima

Justice at last

The CVSU also alerted the community policing forum, and members were sent to her house to apprehend her husband. When her case reached the courts, the CFC mobilized further funds for Ms. Salima to attend her husband's hearing.

 “I am thankful for the support,” she says. “Without it, I couldn’t have made it to the court sessions.”

Her husband was convicted and is serving six years in prison. However, she feels the sentence should have been stiffer.

“I wanted him to get 30 years or more,” she says. “I am lucky that he injured my arm as he was aiming for the head. Such people should be put away for life as they are not only a risk to women, but the community at large.”

Nkhata Bay, where Ms. Salima hails from, has one of the highest number of cases of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country. Recent statistics for the district show that out of every 100 women and girls who experienced GBV, 11 of them experienced physical violence.

UNFPA has supported 18 communities at Traditional Authority or Sub-Traditional Authority level in Nkhata Bay with community funding. As at April 2022, this funding had supported 823 women and girls who experienced and survived GBV in the district.

Originally published by UNFPA ESARO.

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