MANICA PROVINCE, Mozambique - It’s early morning in Mpengo Village, Manica province, East Mozambique. Amid this colourful and fertile landscape, children are waking up, their laughter and footsteps can be heard echoing through the streets. Sarudzai Saize, 26, leaves her house and navigates the bumpy road outside in a wheelchair, her 1-year-old daughter on her lap. Sarudzai is an orphan, a woman with a disability and a survivor of violence. 

“I had an unplanned pregnancy, and I was stigmatized, discriminated against, excluded and eventually abandoned by my husband because of my disability,” says Ms. Saize who found herself alone after discovering she was pregnant at 25. Since the death of her parents, she’d had no one else to rely on for support.

"I was stigmatized, discriminated against, excluded and eventually abandoned by my husband because of my disability." - Sarudzai Saize, businesswoman

Ms. Saize’s vulnerable situation was reported to authorities, who referred her to Girl Child Rights (GCR), a Mozambican civil society organization implementing the Spotlight Initiative African Regional Programme.

Ms. Saize joined the Spotlight Initiative in 2021 to receive training on business management, financial literacy and accessing employment. Under the Initiative, she joined the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) which helps women to launch businesses and become financially independent. VSLAs provide access to small loans and a space to discuss business ideas at weekly meetings. She also benefited from life skills opportunities, including training on business development, leadership, financial literacy, and industries such as agriculture, cereal processing and livestock production.

Overcoming prejudice 
“Thanks to the Spotlight Initiative, I’ve started my own business. Before, my life was very difficult. I couldn’t save money to buy groundnuts to sell. Now I can take care of myself and my daughter,” says Ms. Saize.

Through the VSLA, Ms. Saize was able to get a loan of $50 USD to start a hairdresser business and turn her house into a salon. She used the profits to buy more equipment and supplies. Less than a year later, she was earning enough income to support herself and her newborn daughter. 

To date, 60 Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) groups have been established in Manica province by Girl Child Rights (GCR).

Feeling financially empowered, Ms. Saize started two more businesses: baking and selling cakes and roasting and selling groundnuts. She soon employed three more women.

"Thanks to the Spotlight Initiative, I’ve started my own business. Before, my life was very difficult... Now I can take care of myself and my daughter.” - Ms. Sarudzai

“Life is not easy and it’s even worse when you are a woman with a disability and without financial resources,” she says. “The Spotlight Initiative gave me the opportunity to be a recognized and dignified person in my community.”

In 2021, more than 9,000 Mozambican women were reached by Spotlight Initiative-supported economic empowerment activities to reduce their vulnerability to poverty and gender-based violence.

Mozambique has the 10th highest rate of early marriages in the world, with 48 per cent of girls marrying before the age of 18 (DHS, 2011). As Ms. Saize can attest, financial literacy, technical and vocational training in business management have important implications for young girls’ and women’s financial independence - and by extension, their ability to break the cycle of violence. Supporting women-led entrepreneurship groups is critical to achieving gender equality.

“My whole life, I’ve been told by community members: ‘you are incapable of doing anything’ but today I have proved them all wrong,” says Ms. Saize. “Disability is not inability.”

By Soraia Ribeiro