UNICEF is paying for girls in Malawi to learn tactics to defend themselves from sexual assault

An Ujamaa training session in Nairobi.
An Ujamaa training session in Nairobi.
Image: Reuters/Siegfried Modola
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In a bid to reduce sexual assaults in Malawi, the UN’s Children’s Fund, in partnership with Ujamaa, a Kenyan charity, is financing a program that teaches schoolgirls self defense tactics. The lessons include physical skills such as punches and jabs, as well practical skills such distracting their assailants and running for safety.

Over the past year, 25,000 schoolgirls have been trained in the program, VOA reports. The self defense lessons last for two hours every week over a six-week period and are held across seven districts in the country. Ujamaa training programs started in Kenya, where the charity says rape incidents dropped by half in schools where girls have undergone the training.

Reports of cases of sexual assault in Malawi have increased since the training started. “In the past, girls were not reporting it but now they are indeed empowered to report abuses. Some are reporting the incidents to us teachers and others to their parents for action,” Rebecca Msalanyama, a teacher involved in the training program said.  A 2011 report estimated that only 3% of sexually abused children between 12 and 18 years old reported those cases.

Long-term, Simang’aliso Domoya, Ujamaa project coordinator, says the aim of the project is “reduce incidents of rape” and also promote discussions to reduce the rates of “early marriages, school drop-outs and also early pregnancies” in Malawi. The training also targets boys, teaching them how to intervene if they witness cases of assault.