Appropriate dispute resolution for women married under customary law in Malawi, with special reference to marital violence

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

As a dispute resolution service provider, the justice system ought to provide effective legal remedies to address the justice needs of people. Apart from having the capacity to provide the legal remedies, the system has to be accessible as well. In marital violence disputes, one of the general interests of both the State and the affected individual spouses is to prevent further abuse. Courts offer this remedy, among others, by imposing restraining orders, which are backed up by punitive threats. On the other hand, facilitative mechanisms of dispute resolution such as mediation do not have the power to impose punishment on contemptuous parties. However, facilitative dispute resolution processes encourage joint problem solving, which is desirable in maintaining a workable relationship between spouses. This research argues that in order to ensure optimum access to justice in marital violence disputes there is a need for a dispute resolution system that offers facilitative and advisory mechanisms of dispute resolution alongside court processes. However, in Malawi, rural citizens face the barriers of language and use of English law-orientated procedures when accessing courts. Furthermore, some customary law practices and statutory law provisions encourage the view that mediation in marital violence disputes precludes concurrent access to court remedies. This research explores the challenges which this current approach to marriage dispute resolution poses to women married under customary law. It answers the question whether the justice system, with its English law-orientated procedures and the tenet of mandatory mediation or reconciliation, offers appropriate and effective mechanisms of resolving marital violence disputes to women married under customary law.