The extent to which African indigenous language tools are an instrument to promote or/and hinder gender equality: critical analysis of chichewa proverbs of Malawi.
Chiwaya-Kamwendo, Juliet Jacinta.
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This study is traced from the United Nation Sustainable Development goal number five of gender equality and women empowerment which supersede Millennium Development Goals number three. One way in which language is used is through the use of proverbs. The study aimed at finding out how Chichewa proverbs of Malawi can be an instrument to promote or hinder gender equality and women empowerment. The study followed hermeneutic phenomenological method and qualitative research approach to understand and interpret the connotations inscribed in Chichewa gendered proverbs. In order to unpack and analyze the proverbs, the study is underpinned within the Knowledge translation theory, along with critical discourse analysis and the reformist African feminism. Two methods of data collection were adopted in this study: desktop search and interviews which were conducted with the aid of semi-structured open ended questions. The interviews were conducted in two separate ways ie. Individual face to face as well as focus groups. In total, fourty four participants were from four different population groups namely; the block leaders, the ward councillors, the education managers and other respondents who were just residents of the area. Using content analysis, the data were analyzed qualitatively and findings presented and discussed thematically. On a positive note, the results of this study reveals that Chichewa proverbs may work positively towards enhancing gender equality and women empowerment. This is demonstrated when some proverbs portray women as symbols of warmth to the society while others encourage women empowerment and agency. Secondly, men’s bad and evil behaviors towards women are rebuked in some Chichewa proverbs. The results of this study further shows that within Malawi society, men are not completely free from proverbial negativity but are equally victims of proverbial messages. With special reference to matrilineal society, proverbs have shown elements of discrimination on the part of suitors (mkamwini). This is in conflict with some Eurocentric gender studies which completely ignore the dynamics and uniqueness of different context, cultures and traditions. With the aid of poly-epistemic research approach and methodologies, such tradition dynamics were unravelled to fill the gaps and contribute to already existing body of knowledge. However, to the larger extent Chichewa proverbs have elements that work against women in various aspects. The proverbs are tools used to create and sustain the construction of hegemonic masculinity and femininity hence the superiority of men and inferiority of women in Malawi is sustained. By creating a body of knowledge which portray women as gossipers, evil beings, weak and people lacking decision-making skills, women continue to suffer oppression, marginalization, subordination and discrination in various ways both in public and privatespheres. Even though the results of this study reveal that probably both men and women were involved in the construction of proverbs, but the knowledge contribution of women in this domain was just meant to serve the male chauvinistic. This study therefore concludes that although some Chichewa proverbs can be used by gender activists to promote gender equality in Malawi, the wisdom embedded in some proverbs seem to be a hindrance towards the advance.