Agnes Filimoni’s story begins typically for this 30-year old mother from Mtembo Village in Malawi’s Chitera traditional authority. Here, the high rate of child marriages and pregnancies is often motivated by desperation to escape poverty and have food to eat.
Agnes was pushed into an early marriage to seek refuge from sexual abuse by her stepfather. At fifteen she ran away from home to live with her grandparents but soon ended up in a relationship with a man who helped her to finish primary school after which the two were married.
But her husband became abusive following the birth of her first child. With no source of help she endured years of marital abuse. On top of that, her first child dropped out of school.
Invited to attend a community awareness programme on the rights of women organized by Girls Empowerment Network (GENET), Agnes took the bold step to join this network. When they saw her natural leadership qualities, she was encouraged to set up a GENET network in her own village. She did and is currently the chair of the Tikondane Women’s group.
Agnes and the eighteen members of her new group were given crash courses in business management, life and leadership skills and a start-up capital of 250,000 Kwacha (About $600) in June 2013. Out of this, Agnes obtained a loan of 15,000 Kwacha (About $35) with which she started hawking ladies’ bags from village to village. During market days she would go sell in the market. Within months, she had diversified her wares and included the Malawian traditional cloth “Zitenje,” and children’s clothes.
In about 10 months her capital had shot up to 80,000 Kwacha ($190). She put 30,000 Kwacha ($70) of her capital into farming corn and beans. Currently Agnes has a business capital of 50,000 Kwacha ($120) and hopes to continue to grow it. She is also expecting a good harvest.
With the increased income and improved confidence she is now able to support her two children in school. They are better fed, have soap and pomade to use, dress better and are happier, she says. Now she is encouraging her sixteen-year old son who dropped out of school to return to the classroom.
And what about her four-year-old daughter?
“As long as I am alive, I’ll not allow my daughter to marry early,” Agnes vows. “She will finish school and get a means of earning income first. “
Agnes’ hard work, sense of business, assertiveness and leadership skills have already paid off. She now sits on the village Development Committee (VDC) and has attained the coveted post of a secretary. As a result of her advocacy, Agnes has been made the chair of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) committee in the village.
“The AWDF funded project has been of great benefit to me and I wish the project came earlier before I got lost,” Agnes said.
As a result of the work being done by GENET and other civil society organisations in the traditional authority, the Chitera traditional authority has banned marriages by subjects less than 21 years.