Ryan Ubuntu Olson | Palladium - Dec 10 2019
Youth Advocate and TV Host in Malawi has been "a Victim of Violence for Speaking Out"

Maziko Matemvu, a Youth Advocate in Malawi

For Human Rights Day on 10 December, Ryan Ubuntu Olson interviews Maziko Matemvu, a young woman fighting for human rights in Malawi.

“Unfortunately, not everyone in my community has access to the most basic human rights,” explains Maziko Matemvu, an advocate for women and girls in Lilongwe, Malawi. “I believe that I am unfree if other human beings are unfree, even if their shackles are different than mine.”

When it comes to socio-economic indicators, including literacy, education completion, wage equality, political participation, and decisions over land, women and girls in Malawi fare far worse than their male counterparts. “The problem is the social-cultural perspectives that confine young women and girls to only being housekeepers and child bearers,” says Maziko “The repercussions are very detrimental.”

Maziko (second from right) with youth in Malawi
Maziko (second from right) with youth in Malawi

Safe Spaces

Maziko knows that many young women and girls cannot access sexual and reproductive health services. “I’ve been to communities where people didn’t even know what HIV was, or what a condom was.” This is especially alarming given that women are disproportionally affected by HIV in Malawi: new HIV infections women aged 15-24 are double those among young men. Even more, only 41% of women and men in this same age range can correctly identify ways of preventing HIV transmission.

Maziko empowers young people to take ownership on issues affecting their health and wellbeing, and educates them on rights and key national policies. She is currently a Programs Manager for HeR Liberty, a youth-led organisation that has created safe spaces for adolescents to speak openly about these issues.

“We ensure young people are given correct information, because there are so many myths passed on from previous generations,” says Maziko.

Advocacy

But information is not always enough. Maziko, through HeR Liberty, equips youth with the skills to lobby policymakers around sexual reproductive health and other rights.

She also works to create “youth friendly” health centres. “Young people need to be able to access services without being judged or shamed,” she explains. Some youth leaders have been able to lobby their policymakers to make commitments to build a youth friendly health centre in their district, Mchinji.

Maziko was a participant at a training, supported by Palladium and the Health Policy Plus (HP+) program, which equipped her with skills to effectively engage policymakers and decision-making bodies at local and national levels.
“The training connected me to mentors who are, ‘til this day, very supportive and offer me guidance and support when challenges come up,” she says.

She’s now training more people to do the same.

"There are so many myths passed on from previous generations."

Spreading Her Message

Maziko tries to reach youth where they are: through spoken word poetry and television. She hosts a show called "21st Generation" and informs her audiences of different policies, advocacy opportunity, entry-points, and strategies they can use to stand up for their own rights. “While I want to make them aware of certain issues, I also hope that just talking about these subjects will de-stigmatise them,” she says.

Now, Maziko finds herself in spaces with other leaders, influencers, politicians, and decision-makers. She says, “If they’re talking about something that is supposed to impact a certain group, but that group isn’t there – if it’s not inclusive of young women and girls, or young people, or LGBTQI people, or people with disabilities – I gather the courage to speak out and challenge their process and their initiatives.”

Of course, it’s not always easy to spread these messages. “I’ve been a victim of violence for speaking out about these things,” explains Maziko. “But I cannot be silenced. My personal responsibility is to speak out for the voiceless and marginalised.”

Palladium implements the Health Policy Plus (HP+) project for USAID.