Kenwilliams Mhango – Malawi

Kenwilliams Mhango – Malawi

Date: September 28, 2015
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Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights

I am a human rights defender who has worked both in Malawi and Zambia since childhood. Being from a Christian background I grew up believing in God. I spent much of my time attending fellowship prayers with my fellow believers which motivated me to become interested in helping others achieve the purpose for which they were created. I decided to work for human rights when I was released from Zomba Mikuyu Prison having seen the conditions that I went through with other colleagues such as Chakufwa Chihana and Dr Orton Chirwa who died in prison, fighting for change in Malawi. The fight was about breaking the one party system for a multiparty government. In 1994, I was elected president of Malawi Congress of Trades Union and this position did not please my employer, Mount Soche Hotel. The hotel then seconded me on a ten year contract which was terminated in 1998 before the end of the term, using government influence and citing as the reason that I was anti-government and sympathised with Chakufwa Chihana, the leader of the Alliance for Democracy party (AFORD) from the northern part of Malawi. As I am also a northerner the government held the view that Chihana was influencing trade union decisions, being a former trade unionist. The government accused me of inciting violence and said that if mass action turned to violence the leaders would be persecuted. This was contrary to Malawian law and international labour standards. My work is built upon universal human values working towards a world that respects women, youths and human rights in general. This includes efforts towards the eradication of discriminatory tendencies based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, ability, ethnicity, language, nationality and class.

My curriculum vitae:
Current Country Director of the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect
Current President of Malawi Union for Informal Sector
1974-77: Zambia Civil Servant Trade Union, Vice President
1978-93: Human Resources Manager, Malawi Hotels Chain,
1993-2002: Elected Labor leader, President of Malawi Congress of Trades Union
1996-99: Elected SATUC President, Botswana
2001-2004: Special advisor to the State Republican President, on Labour and Social Protection issues, full-time job

I have had 10 years’ experience improving the socio-economic and political position of the marginalized, especially vulnerable workers, and I was a Privatization Commissioner for 10 years. I was also Chairman of the Malawi Wages Advisory Council for 10 years and Member of the Governing Council of the ILO for 11 years. I was the founder of the Malawi Union for Informal Sector in 1998.

My personal mission statement is: “It is not enough to be frustrated, you have to fight. The planet Earth is a place for us all to come together and share our memories as we think of transforming the lives of the most marginalized in SADC and Africa as a whole, through a gallant campaign for social protection and hopes for a better livelihood for everyone.”
My activities include inspiring team members to have a shared vision; enabling others to act; modeling the way for my followers; encouraging my followers to carry on; stimulating a group of people to have a goal, livelihood development as well as resource mobilisation.

Resource mobilisation:
Gender specific allocation 15,000,000 R410,138.67 Donor grants
Gender in mainstream projects (please specify) 10,500,000 R287,097.07
Amount contributed in cash or in kind by partner organisations 5,000,000 R136,712.89
TOTAL 30,500 ,000 833, 948.63

Other activities include training on behaviour change, peer education, youth mobilisation, awareness and education, behaviour change and appropriate activities in the community; guidance and counselling, awareness and education, youth and community mobilisation, youth interactive sessions and advocating for the rights of vulnerable people.

My work started in early 1990, at the height of Malawi’s notorious one-party regime when I joined hands with pro-democracy fighter Chakufwa Chihana to advocate for improved and increased human rights freedoms. I am one of the people who was arrested for human rights advocacy work. I was later appointed Special Advisor to the Republican President on Labour Issues as one way of trying to silence me. Surprisingly, after serving for three years, I refused to renew my second contract, opting, instead, to venture into specialised human rights activities in areas I felt were largely neglected. As the founding president of the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) and Presidential Advisor on Labour Issues, I felt that I had already devoted much of my time to labour matters and that it was time to concentrate my efforts on human rights and good governance issues.
That marked the beginning of the African Network for the Protection and Prevention of Women and Children from Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN)-Malawi Chapter, an organization I have headed as Country Director since 1999. I was born on December 1, 1949, have six children and am married to Annie. In 2004 I scaled up my efforts to place the Malawian girl child and woman in a strategic position to initiate positive change, circumvent societal stereotypes and overcome economic and resource challenges to become some of the most visible national players in Malawi.

All these changes and platforms have offered me the opportunity to serve this country and others for the greater good and attainment of socio-economic development, and this remains my motivating factor for achieving sustainable positive change for all the most vulnerable groups in society.

These efforts have been noticed by others. In 2011, I received Malawi’s ‘Top Human Rights Defender’ Award from the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC, a grouping of 97 Malawian human rights NGOs working in the area of human rights, good governance and social emancipation. In 2011 I received an award from the French Government for Human Rights Defenders. In 2012, I received the third award, from the Mayor of Roma on how best to use IT.

I have worked tirelessly for the NGO-Gender Co-ordination Network (NGO-GCN) in its campaigns for greater women participation in politics and decision-making processes in the recent Election 2014.

I serve as Board Member for HRCC, Media AIDS and Heath Watch (Mawa, a health rights grouping of Malawian online (new media), print, and electronic media journalists and practitioners) and Lifeline Southern Africa, among others.

I am dedicated to the community and my belief is that innovative development processes are critical to the development of poor and historically marginalized communities. My contribution is to effectively and efficiently bring sustainable improvements to the living standards of the people of Malawi, especially children, youth and women through self help projects based on their priorities, needs and capabilities and other activities aimed at alleviation of their poverty.

In Helema village and surrounding villages there are a lot of households who are involved in producing local beer (kachaso and mowa wamasese) which influences alcoholism, the school dropout rate and teenage pregnancy. In addition, some village members sell Indian hemp which is quite dangerous.

Mercy Chasokoneza is a 17 year old girl. She lives at Fred II village, traditional Authority Makata in Blantyre District, during the mapping exercise she mentioned that she got pregnant because she had not had adequate information regarding contraceptives that could prevent her from falling pregnant.

“Honestly speaking I don’t know the real father of my baby”, Alefa Elias said, “what happened to me to get pregnant is a long story, actually here at our home we had some celebrations as we were preparing my relative’s engagement, that night I met a man and he proposed me and the same night we agreed to have sex and I didn’t know that I was impregnated, a month later I started feeling signs of pregnancy then I consulted elders”.

In the village of Mr MacDonald Chatsala (Village Head kajawo) we trained about 250 teenagers about the danger of pregnancy, early marriages and HIV and AIDS and school dropouts and the concern of the Malawi Government that this is badly affecting the development of the country. We tell parents and key informants in the village and other villages around TA kapeni that it is high time they started opening up and guiding the youth, so as to help to combat the problem. We speak to the children and youths who are already in these challenging situations. We tell them they should also go back to school and that this is not the end of the road.

There is increasing worldwide concern, including in Malawi, about the health and development problems of young people. These health concerns relate particularly to reproductive health and to psychosocial and behavioural aspects that put girls at risk of ill health and death. Other factors that make me see young people as particularly vulnerable include their dependency on other people, inexperience, shyness, especially on the part of girls, the lack of clear legal structures and conflicting social value systems. The explosion of telecommunications across cultural boundaries appears to be influencing the sexual behaviour of young people by providing models, pressures and opportunities for sexual encounters. Reproductive health is a major concern of young people because of early sexual maturation. In Malawi, studies also indicate that young people frequently engage in early sexual activities.

“Honestly speaking I don’t know the real father of my baby”, Alefa Elias said, “what happened to me to get pregnant is a long story, actually here at our home we had some celebrations as we were preparing my relative’s engagement, that night I met a man and he proposed me and the same night we agreed to have sex and I didn’t know that I was impregnated, a month later I started feeling signs of pregnancy then I consulted elders”.


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