Malawi: Using art to prevent violence against women and girls


Group of young women dancing and singing in a rural area
Girls Club members from Musayiwa village using song and dance to engage the community on issues related to child marriage. Credit: Chawanangwa Nyirenda/ArtGlo

In Malawi, according to a UNICEF report, 34% of women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced physical violence since age 15, and 21% of women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.[1]

To address such issues, Art and Global Health Center Africa (ArtGlo), a women-led non-governmental organization, is running a project called Make Art for Women Activism in five districts in Southern Malawi.  

Empowering women 

The project, supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, aims to: 

  • challenge social norms that perpetuate violence against women and girls; and  
  • empower women through collaborating with grassroots civil society organizations (CSOs). 

Sharon Kalima Nkhwazi, Make Art for Sustainable Action (MASA) Programme Manager at ArtGlo, explains: 

“We believe CSOs are knowledgeable and well placed to advocate and mobilize for change in their society, but most have limited capacity and skills to achieve [change].”  

The Make Art for Women Activism project is training CSO leaders using locally available resources, communications and financial management, and through participatory arts and human-centred design of intervention projects.  

Participatory arts 

Three women dancing surrounded by a large group of women of all ages
Girls from Musayiwa village using ‘pamtondo’ (music) as a participatory arts approach to discuss issues of early child marriage and where to report. Credit: Chawanangwa Nyirenda/ArtGlo

The peer-led participatory arts approach, which has previously been used effectively by ArtGlo’s MASA Youth Programme, is being employed to strengthen CSOs’ capacity to engage communities, provoke critical thinking and initiate bold conversations on violence against marginalized women and girls, a topic often deemed “sensitive” in the community. 

Drama clubs, poetry and role plays drawing on local, real-life situations have helped raise awareness of different forms of violence and available support services, and encouraged reflection and positive change of the participants.  

Early successes 

In 2021, ArtGlo trained 10 CSOs, which have since demonstrated a better understanding of the importance of engaging directly with women and girls. The CSOs have also successfully enabled their audiences to identify the root causes of violence and ignite action to prevent violence before it happens. 

Justin Phiri from the CSO Tiwasunge said: 

“This approach is helping us in our activities in the communities to allow the people to fully identify their challenges and also come up with solutions or ways of addressing them.” 

Since the project began in January 2020, trained CSOs have reached over 2,500 women and girls, prevented 16 child marriages and provided timely support to three pregnant teenagers. Crucially, attitudes have shifted, so women now feel safer and more knowledgeable about where and how to report cases of violence. 

Adapting to challenges 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, supported by additional resources provided under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, ArtGlo moved the training sessions online. This opened up new possibilities to spread the project’s model to other communities across Malawi and beyond. 

ArtGlo’s innovative and flexible approaches to empowering local organizations to prevent violence against women and girls have made and will continue to make life-changing differences for survivors and those at risk of violence in Malawi. 

[1] UNICEF Malawi (2020) Ending violence against women and girls in Malawi: What do we know? Accessed: 24 June 24, 2022.