Creating a safe space for refugee women and girls in Malawi


“There is increased awareness on human rights among the women refugees. This has empowered women to confidently report cases of sexual and gender-based violence.” - Maguy Masengo, refugee woman in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi 

Three black women outside in the dark, of all ages, are showing their blue t-shirts with the number of FACT Malawi's new hotline
Participants during the Launch of the Hotline Service in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Credit: FACT Malawi

Worldwide, women and girls who are refugees or internally displaced face a heightened risk of violence – including domestic violence, early and forced marriage, and trafficking – due to the uncertainties associated with displacement.[1] In Malawi, they additionally face a food crisis, rampant poverty and a national encampment policy which forbids them from accessing education and formal employment[2]

In response, the women-led organization Facilitators of Community Transformation (FACT) led a project to prevent and address family and community violence against refugee women and girls in Malawi, supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) under the Special Funding Window on addressing violence against women and girls (VAW/G) in the context of the current forced displacement and refugee crisis. 

Community prevention 

Since the start of the project, FACT has implemented “We are One” campaigns through ambassadors and media platforms, including Radio Yetu, in Dzaleka refugee camp. These campaigns aim to strengthen community prevention through awareness-raising on sexual and gender-based violence against refugee women and girls. They involve all community members, including men and boys as well as faith-based and traditional leaders, as agents of change to challenge harmful attitudes and behaviours. Monitoring by the project shows the campaigns have reached 40% of people in Dazleka refugee camp, increasing their knowledge about sexual and gender-based violence by 60%. 

FACT has also designed and conducted five “Know your rights” community dialogue sessions, reaching 548 refugee women and girls. Using a participatory approach, these sessions have “provided space for engagement of women and girls within the camp and in host communities and opened up opportunities for meaningful participation” explains Thokozile Phiri Nkhoma, FACT’s Executive Director. They also enable women and girls to find peer support and formulate concrete recommendations, based on their own experiences, to address the financial, social, cultural and practical barriers they face in accessing their rights. Project participants have directly presented the recommendations to relevant authorities. 

Thokozile Phiri Nkhoma, Executive Director of FACT, explains that since the sessions started, they have noticed “positive change in terms of the participation of women and girls in ending VAW/G interventions within the camp.” 

Stronger legislation  

Strong, inclusive policy and legal instruments are vital to protect and empower women and girls in refugee camps and host communities. 

FACT initiated a preliminary policy and legal environment assessment to better understand the situation of women refugees, in collaboration with parliament committees as well as civil society and women’s rights organizations. The results have informed the drafting of and introduce a parliamentary bill to fully recognize and protect the economic, sexual and reproductive rights of women and girl refugees. 

Through regular meetings with a wide range of committed stakeholders, including the Department of Refugees at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and representatives of refugee women, FACT is also leading advocacy efforts to include refugee women’s rights organizations in the National Committee on Refugees, to amplify the voices of women and girl refugees. 

Ines Finchelstein, Portfolio Manager at the UN Trust Fund, explains that “community interventions led by human rights organizations like FACT, centered on changes in policies and laws by acknowledging the specific needs of refugee women and girls often left behind, are of utmost importance.” 

[1] UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (2017), Fact sheet: Ending violence against women and girl refugees

[2] UNHCR (2021), Malawi - 2021 Plan Summary