[Grace] Mwase was just 10 when she was led, along with about a dozen other girls, to remote huts outside her village during winter vacation from school in August. The girls were accompanied by older women from their village in Chiradzulu district, near the border with Mozambique. The women, known asanamkungwi, or “key leaders,” told them that when they returned to their villages they should cook and clean—and have sex. According to Mwase, most of the two weeks she spent at the initiation camp were dedicated to learning how to engage in sexual acts. She had been excited for this time with friends away from home, but that feeling quickly gave way to dread as she learned the true purpose of initiation. “They taught us only how you can handle a man,” she says, looking down at her hands. “So you should be dancing for the man. The man should be on top of you and you should be dancing for him, making him happy.”
The anamkungwi told the girls to lie on top of one another and get a feel for the various positions described to them. They then encouraged the girls to “practice” what they had learned. In fact, girls in Malawi are often told that if they don’t have sex upon concluding initiation, their skin will become dry and brittle. This will mark them for life, and they will be ostracized if they don't complete the custom as their mothers and grandmothers did before them. These guardians often force their daughters to go through with the ritual for fear of breaking with tradition.
Read more about the custom of initiation in Malawi and what one girl is doing about it in my article for The Atlantic.