Every society has its own rite of passage which marks the transition from one stage of life into another. In Malawi, to mark the transition from childhood to adolescence, children as young as 7 are made to go through the Kusasa Fumbi.
Kusasa Fumbi is at best described as ‘Sexual Cleansing/Education’. It is an initiation for both boys and girls and its aim is to get rid of sexual inexperience by practising. In line with Malawian tradition, girls and boys are taken to separate camps to get initiated. At these camps, they have instructors, older (wo)men who teach them varying sexual positions and for the girls, they are taught that it is ‘sexual cleansing’ and they need to learn it so they can properly understand how to ‘please men’. A refusal to join in the rite of passage would amount to been considered a social outcast. Most of the girls are forced to join by their parents/guardian.
At the camp, a man nicknamed a ‘hyena’ or ‘fisi’, has unprotected sexual intercourse with the girls as part of this rite of passage. No one teaches about the health complications that may result from this. All the girls are taught is how to respect their elders, obey their parents and please men. Understandably, not all traditional practices require abolishment as they may be rooted in good intentions but many need modification to incorporate modern and crucial health practices.
Two women who have flagged a movement against this practice are- Theresa Kachindamoto and Memory Banda.
Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto is the paramount chief, also known as Inkosi of the Dedza District of Malawi. Inkosi was disturbed when she found high rates of child marriage in her district. She knew she could not persuade parents to change their views, instead she raised a case for child marriages in the district and got 50 sub-chiefs in the district agree to banning the sexual initiation of young girls, abolish early marriage and annul existing unions.
The law was met with initial resistance. However, after the leadership of the region saw the length she was willing to go, to ensure compliance, they reasoned with her and issued a civil code to ban child marriages. In April of 2015, Malawi president Peter Mutharika signed into law a ban on child marriage, endorsing a new minimum age of 18 for both genders. Theresa has annulled over 300 child marriages and actively seeks to do more in empowering young girls.
Memory Banda, who is the first of six girls in her family of 8, decided not to partake in the traditional initiation that validates her as ‘woman’. Having watched her sister get married at 11,birth 3 children before 16, battle several health complications and endure two failed marriages, she decided to advocate for the law against child marriage in Malawi.
She partnered with Malawi’s Girls Empowerment Network who go to different initiation camps to educate girls on the effects of ‘sexual cleansing’. She is a role model to a lot of young girls in her country. Memory believes young girls should be encouraged to embrace education rather than been forced into marriage. According to her, young girls should adopt the “I’ll marry when I want, but not before I am well educated, and not before I am all grown up.” mantra.