In the third edition of our series dedicated to the work of our partner organisations, we shine the spotlight on the Gender and Justice Unit, a Malawian non-profit that uses legal empowerment as a catalyst for gender equality and social and environmental justice. We spoke to its Deputy Director and Project Manager Emma Kalea Chigwenembe to find out more.
Emma Kalea Chigwenembe, Deputy Director and Project Manager of the Gender and Justice Unit
"Our vision is to see a Malawi with empowered and engaged citizens, embracing social justice and gender equality."
Firstly, can you introduce yourself with your name, title, and where you are based?
My name is Emma Kalea Chigwenembe, and I am the Deputy Director and Project Manager at the Gender and Justice Unit. I am based in Lilongwe, Malawi.
What were the particular challenges that led to the establishment of the Gender Justice Unit? What need is it addressing?
The Gender and Justice Unit (GJU) is a non-governmental organisation that hones in on legal empowerment as one of the most powerful catalysts of gender equality and social justice. It uses the law for gender equality and social justice through strategic litigation and legal research, mobilisation through strategic partnerships, and strengthening access to justice through pro bono legal representation, research, and advocacy.
Our mission is to implement high-quality feminist programmes that advance social justice and gender equality in Malawi. Our vision is to see a Malawi with empowered and engaged citizens, embracing social justice and gender equality. The establishment and work of the GJU stem from a civil justice needs assessment, which identified the gaps in accessing justice services in Malawi, particularly among marginalised and vulnerable populations.
The Gender and Justice Unit during a legal clinic session in Traditional Authority Kanyenda in Nkhotakota
"I am strongly committed to promoting gender equality and social justice for marginalised and vulnerable populations. With a personal interest in this area, I have accumulated more than a decade of work experience advocating for gender equality and social justice."
How did you get into this kind of work?
I am strongly committed to promoting gender equality and social justice for marginalised and vulnerable populations. With a personal interest in this area, I have accumulated more than a decade of work experience advocating for gender equality and social justice.
The Gender and Justice Unite team meeting with the Malawi Police Service Inspector General, Merlyne Yolamu (PPM)
Can you describe your current role at the Gender Justice Unit? What are your responsibilities?
Currently, I serve as the Deputy Director and Project Manager at the Gender and Justice Unit, where I am responsible for managing projects and providing leadership. As a Deputy Director, I play a crucial role in ensuring smooth day-to-day operations and implementing the organisation's goals and objectives. I assist and support the Director in overseeing various operations and functions within an organisation.
As a Programme Manager, I oversee the planning, implementation, and evaluation of specific programmes or projects within GJU. I work closely with the litigation team; programmes team; Finance Team and stakeholders to ensure that the programme objectives are met within the set timelines and budget. As a Programme Manager, I also monitor the progress, identify and resolve any issues that may arise, and ensure effective communication among all parties involved.
What are the main challenges currently facing the Gender and Justice Unit?
Our organization is currently facing a significant obstacle in terms of the limited physical reach of our GBV programming. The majority of our efforts are concentrated in specific project-impact sites, which pose a challenge in terms of achieving comprehensive national coverage. Despite the presence of a hotline for reporting GBV cases at the national level, our organisation must expand its impact and extend its coverage across the entire nation.
Looking at the website, the number of women on the GJU team is striking and impressive. Particularly in a legal context, this is rarely the case. How has GJU navigated the Malawian legal context as an outspoken feminist organisation? Has it been met with hurdles?
We express our gratitude for acknowledging the presence of women in the GJU team. As an organisation that advocates for gender equality, we are committed to fostering inclusivity in society. To navigate the legal landscape in Malawi, we have established strategic partnerships and networking relationships that support our work, both within and beyond the legal field, and are aligned with our objectives. By collaborating with these partners, we can amplify our message and make a more significant impact.
Additionally, we take a knowledge-sharing and legal empowerment strategy through our online platform, the Malawi Legal Information Institute. With this platform, we provide free access to Malawi case law and legislation. We also run community sensitisation programmes to ensure that we stay updated on the latest legal developments, policies, and case studies on gender equality and women's rights.
Emma interviewing the Nkhotakota Youth Officer during the Facility Assessment on GBV Response at Nkhotakota District Council in Nkhotakota
"By harnessing our collective strength, we have the power to dismantle the obstacles that make us susceptible to vulnerability and access the necessary avenues for seeking justice."
How do you personally manage the pressures and responsibilities of working in this context?
My support system is robust, encompassing both my professional and personal life. While I receive ample support from various sources, my family plays a significant role in providing me with guidance, understanding, and motivation. My partner is very supportive in my personal life and provides me with insights on my well-being. I spend my Saturdays doing yoga exercises and aerobics three times during the week. As a safe care priority, I prioritise my family and personal time despite my work responsibilities.
Additionally, I actively engage in networks that keep me updated on feminist issues and the strides made toward achieving gender equality. This knowledge empowers me to advocate for change within my workplace effectively. I am vocal about advancing gender equality and ensuring a healthy work-life balance by setting boundaries. Lastly, I am fortunate to have mentors, irrespective of gender, who assist me in shaping my career aspirations.
In your view, what needs to be done to achieve equality for women and other marginalised identities in Malawi?
To achieve gender equality, I advocate for the establishment of a supportive network that embraces inclusivity and ensures that no one is marginalised due to their social status. Despite our diverse backgrounds and identities as women, we can unite to combat any form of mistreatment that may be directed toward us individually. I facilitated the establishment and registration of the Women Human Rights Defenders Network in Malawi to allow women defenders to work together as advocates jointly and seek support from each other. There is a need for more networks to be established that should focus on the needs of women and other marginalised identities. Open dialogues can also be used for women and other marginalised identities to discuss their challenges in their works.
By harnessing our collective strength, we have the power to dismantle the obstacles that make us susceptible to vulnerability and access the necessary avenues for seeking justice.
See more at the Gender and Justice Unit's website. You can also follow the Gender and Justice Unit on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.