Theresa Kachindamoto knows how to make an impression. After coming to power as the village chief, Theresa used her influence to empower hundreds of women and girls in her community. As one of her first acts as chief, Theresa annulled 850 child marriages and sent girls back to school, which gave young women a more promising future than the slave-like conditions they had endured under the influence of previous sets of male chiefs.
As the youngest of twelve children descended from the chiefs of a village in Malawi’s Monkey Bay, the stars did not seem to be in favor for her to ever rise to become chief herself. Despite the odds against her, Theresa, the twelfth child, finally got her chance at the top. She had spent 27-years in a career as a secretary at a city college before she was promoted to the village chief.
Because she had witnessed how a college education can empower women, she decided that one of her first acts as chief would be to annul child marriages – which force women into subservient roles when they are extremely young – and to get girls back into school.
Although Theresa never expected to be promoted to chief, the people wanted her. Despite living in a different town, having older siblings, and five children of her own to care for, Theresa had established a reputation for herself as being “good with people,” and this empathetic approach earned her the respect and a lot of votes in the election. That meant that she had to become chief “whether she liked it or not.” The people had spoken with their votes, and Theresa’s aim was to make them happy.
Child marriage was a culturally accepted practice in the region. Sometimes parents would marry off their young daughters for financial reasons. It would give them one fewer mouth to feed in the house, relieving some money stress. Nevertheless, child marriage became illegal in 2015, but that did not stop everyone from partaking. These children could still get married so long as they had their parents’ consent. Since the parents were doing it for financial reasons, it had not stopped. It was a cycle that needed to be broken.
Theresa decided that it had to end once and for all. Child marriage robbed young girls of their future and their childhoods. They were forced to become wives and mothers long before they turned eighteen.
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.'”
So, they were. More than 850 marriages were annulled in the wake of Theresa rising to power as chief. As the leader of 900,000 people, Theresa freed so many young girls from these limiting marriages and sent them to school. She made a difference in so many lives.
Now these women, who were forced into motherhood as children, can contribute to the Malawi economy. They can go to school and learn and add to the country’s wealth. Since Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, it needs women to stand up and contribute economically. Theresa understands the power that women possess. It is her goal to unleash it for the greater good.
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