By Duncan Mlanjira
Plan International Malawi, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages Malawi and World Vision, under the banner of Child Rights Now Network, have joined hands to condemn a satirical cartoon that appeared in Malawi News that they say seems to normalize defilement of a minor.
In the Achalume cartoon, by popular cartoonist Haswell Kunyenje, published in the Malawi News edition of 28th December 2019-3rd January 2020, depicts an adult man suggesting to his colleague that he contracted a sexually transmitted infection from a 16 year-old girl he slept with on New Year’s Eve.
This has not gone well with the NGOs, which are dedicated to promoting child rights, and sensitize Kunyenje and the publishers of the Malawi News that they should be aware that sexual intercourse between an adult male and a 16-year-old girl is classified as defilement under the laws of Malawi.
The Child Rights International NGOS in Malawi have since appealed to artists, content creators, editors, marketers and publishers to avoid reinforcing metaphors that promote stereotypes and disregard gender integrity and request Kunyenje and the editors of Malawi News to make a full and frank apology, as according to its statement, released on Thursday, January 16.
However, both Editor for Malawi News and Managing Director for the publisher Times Group, Leonnard Chikadya did not respond despite being contacted by Maravi Express.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter president, Theresa Ndanga said that this can only be addressed by Media Council of Malawi (MCM).
“We encourage people or organisations to bring to the attention of MCM any ethical issues that they have with the media. MCM has the right systems and processes to address such issues,” says Ndanga in her response.
However, the INGOs say as organisations that fight for the rights of women and girls, they are horrified that the defilement of a minor has been normalized, and seen as something humorous, rather than a crime and a violation of human rights, as said in their joint statement.
“This portrayal of girls and women in this way is retrogressive as Malawi strives to protect girls’ human rights to fulfil its commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“The cartoon sexualises women and girls and undermines their dignity and rights by depicting them as powerless, vulnerable and objects of entertainment in the public domain.
“We strongly condemn this cartoon. Humour and satire have great potential to bring visibility to and foster critical thinking on gender equality issues.
“Mr. Kunyenje ought to realise that cartoonists around the world are helping to end gender discrimination with spirited and thoughtful depictions of the inequalities and injustices women face.”
The NGOs further say the cartoon portrays toxic masculinity in its worst form, and is particularly disappointing as so many stakeholders in Malawi are working together to uproot harmful gender norms and gender-based violence in our patriarchal society.
“We support freedom of expression and acknowledge the role of the media as a platform to inform and educate. We condemn a culture that justifies patriarchy and sexual abuse at a time when Malawi needs to promote gender equality and change the narrative around girls and young women.
“As child rights INGOs, we are committed to ensuring a positive portrayal of girls and women through various campaigns such as Plan International’s ‘RewriteHerStory’, which is part of the Girls Get Equal campaign, and seeks better representation of girls in the media and Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign.
“The Child Rights INGOS in Malawi appeal to artists, content creators, editors, marketers and publishers to avoid reinforcing metaphors that promote stereotypes and disregard gender integrity and request Mr. Kunyenje and the editors of Malawi News to make a full and frank apology,” says the statement.
It has been released by Edith Tsilizani (Senior Manager-Advocacy & Communications, Save the Children); Linda Harawa (Advocacy & Communications Officer, SOS Children’s Villages Malawi); Charles Gwengwe (Director Coms, Advocacy & Justice for Children, World Vision International) and Rogers Siula (Communications & Campaigns Manager, Plan International Malawi).