Freeing women and girls from violence in Mozambique
MAPUTO, Mozambique - The COVID-19 crisis brought new challenges to women and girls around the world. Many countries recorded a surge in domestic violence, resulting from economic pressure, confinement and increased tensions in the household.
In pre-pandemic Mozambique, one in three women suffered violence during their lives. But in the past two years, extreme weather events such as recurring cyclones, droughts and uneven rains have compounded the situation and led to loss of livelihoods, placing an additional burden on women and girls.
Together, implementing partners have reached more than 1.9 million people, of which over 1.1 million are women and girls.
Despite these many challenges, the Government of Mozambique, civil society organizations, and the United Nations (UN) continue working together to end violence against women and girls, through the EU-funded Spotlight Initiative.
On International Women’s Day, we take stock of progress and challenges in achieving a Mozambique where every woman and girl can live a life free from violence.
The Spotlight Initiative - changing lives
The Spotlight Initiative, which is led by the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Action (MGCAS), was launched in the country two years ago in March 2019 and is being implemented in Gaza, Nampula and Manica provinces over a four-year period (2019-2022). With a $40 million commitment by the EU, the programme focuses on the priority areas of ending sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), eliminating child marriage, and promoting women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health (SRH).
Government institutions from the social welfare, health, justice and police sectors are the backbone of the Spotlight Initiative in Mozambique, along with over 20 civil society organizations (CSOs). Together, they have reached more than 1.9 million people, of which over 1.1 million are women and girls.
The achievements of the Spotlight Initiative in Mozambique can be seen in the stories of Amina*, Dalva, Denardina, Guidion, Helena, Isaura*, Maria* and Selma* - women, girls and men whose lives were changed by the programme over the past two years.
Justice and care for survivors of violence
Isaura*, from Manica province, was raped when she was just 11 years old. Her family reported the case to LeMuSica, a local CSO, which in turn took Isaura to the Family and Minors Victims of Violence Assistance Office. She was admitted to hospital where she received life-saving care, and afterwards referred to a womens’ shelter, where she is still recovering from the trauma with support from trained social workers. After the case was referred to the police, the aggressor was found and sentenced to 19 years in prison by the Manica Provincial Court.
This is a successful example of a GBV case resolved by the Mozambican justice system. Unfortunately, for each case resolved, many others are never reported, filed or are withdrawn for lack of evidence.
With support from the Spotlight Initiative, the government is training service providers and strengthening national institutions to ensure that reported cases of GBV are properly followed up, survivors protected and perpetrators held responsible.
In 2020, police school curricula were improved to include GBV prevention, HIV and human rights as part of cadets’ training. Key institutions such as the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s Office and the Criminal Investigation Service have established specific Gender Units.
Over 1,000 staff from the justice sector are now trained to enforce a new package of laws approved by the National Parliament to protect women and girls from violence. This improved the capacity of formal justice to respond to GBV cases and hold perpetrators to account.
Ending child marriage
Selma*, from Gaza Province, was forced to marry when she was 17 and became pregnant shortly after. Community activists working with CSO Kutenga identified her case and persuaded both families to cancel the union. The families were initially reluctant to do so and it became clear that they did not know about the new law prohibiting child marriage until the police became involved.
With the help of Kutenga activists, the families understood the law and the severe consequences that the marriage could have in Selma’s life and decided to cancel the marriage. Selma is now back living with her family and learning to run her own business with the help of Gender Links, a CSO supported by the programme.
Guidion, 26, is a young man from Nampula who received training on women’s rights, GBV and child marriage prevention by the civil society organisation Ophenta. He used to date girls under 18 but after the training he realized that he could be inadvertently violating their rights and placing them in danger. He became an activist, helping his community prevent GBV.
His newfound knowledge has had a further impact on his own family. When it was announced that Guidion’s 14-year-old sister was about to be married, Guidion strongly opposed the decision. He told their father that it was against the law and that his sister’s life would be hampered by an early marriage. His father listened to him, cancelling the marriage and allowing Guidion’s sister to continue her studies.
An estimated 3 million people have been educated about the new law against child marriage.
In late 2019, the Mozambican Parliament approved a new law criminalizing unions with minors (those under 18 years of age). This was the culmination of years of efforts by the Government, civil society and rights-based organizations, concerned that almost half of girls in Mozambique marry before 18 – one of the highest child marriage rates in the world.
Under the leadership of MGCAS, the programme is working with public institutions and civil society to make this law known to communities across the country. An estimated three million people have been educated about the new law, along with critical information on GBV prevention and COVID-19, through a combination of community outreach and radio programmes to communities, civil society, government staff and traditional leaders. Joint work between these stakeholders has led to 15 girls being removed from child marriages in the past year.
Innovating to prevent GBV during the pandemic
“Innovation and creativity are essential in the response to this crisis”, said the EU Ambassador in Mozambique, Antonio Sánchez-Benedito Gaspar, after the Government of Mozambique announced measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the programme adapted to the new reality.
On the same occasion, Myrta Kaulard, the UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique said that the UN would “continue fighting violence and promoting gender equality and sustainable development - the most effective weapons against COVID-19”.
To continue reaching the most vulnerable women and girls, Spotlight Initiative partners adopted innovative strategies:
Denardina, 26, works as a community activist in Nampula with CSO Ophenta. Before the pandemic, her organization used to run door-to-door and public transport campaigns, organizing group debates and street theatre to educate communities on GBV prevention. Today, Denardina and her fellow activists take to the streets with megaphones, spreading messages on preventing and reporting GBV. Activists share phone numbers for hotlines and distribute leaflets to inform women about where to find help if they experience violence. WhatsApp is also used as a tool to disclose cases of violence. Since the programme started, civil society partners have reached over 900,000 people at the community level with the help of local organizations such as Denardina’s.
With schools closed and access to services disrupted due to COVID-19, women and girls are at higher risk of violence but have fewer opportunities to confide in someone or report abuse. Existing hotlines and free SMS services such as Linha Fala Criança (a child helpline), Linha Verde (an emergency hotline) and SMS Biz (a free sms platform) were quickly strengthened and their staff trained to handle GBV cases.
These services are now available to women and girls in all programme target areas which allows them to report GBV cases safely and quickly. Trained operators like Dalva, 29, from Maputo, save lives by helping youth prevent unplanned pregnancies, HIV transmission and child marriage.
Better services and better data
Responding to the need to improve the quality of services for GBV survivors, the Spotlight Initiative supports the government in making significant investment in these services.
In 2020 six mobile clinics were deployed to provide GBV, SRH and basic health services as well as information and referrals to remote populations. This is estimated to have reached over 19,000 people. Nine youth-friendly health services and three one-stop centres for GBV survivors and were rehabilitated, furnished and equipped.
The programme has also improved awareness and access to GBV, SRH and counselling services, having benefitted over 400,000 people. To ensure the quality of these services, over 2,000 government staff were trained on integrated GBV services and legislation.
Over 400,000 people have benefited from expanded GBV response, SRH and counselling services.
When Amina*, 14, was raped, she contacted a local CSO working on GBV response in Nampula who referred her case to a one-stop centre for GBV survivors. Once there, an integrated team of trained health staff, social workers, police and justice staff helped Amina. She was supported without having to retell her story or revisit her trauma multiple times. The team registered her case in a single file and kept it confidential. They also referred Amina to a hospital where she received vital care.
The justice services followed up on her case and, as a result, Amina’s aggressor was sentenced to twelve years in prison. “When people take their case to a one-stop centre, they can solve it without any problem,” said Amina. There are 24 of these centres in Mozambique, and the Spotlight Initiative has helped to rehabilitate three of them.
To collect better data, the government piloted InfoViolência, a new software package to manage cases of GBV. This software provides important insights on GBV trends which contributes to prioritizng interventions, policies, and budgets in areas where women and girls need them most.
Empowering civil society
CSOs have been central in educating communities about practices that discriminate against women and girls. With Spotlight Initiative support, over 40 women’s organizations in Mozambique have been strengthened to advocate for women’s rights. CSOs have also formed 14 platforms at district and province levels, which further allow over 57 community-based organizations to learn, share experiences and refer GBV cases to local authorities, often using WhatsApp to speed up referrals.
Some of these organizations work to teach vulnerable women about entrepreneurship, savings and access to loans. Over 1,800 of these women received training and now run their own small businesses.
“I have learned to make soap using natural products that I can find where I live, which reduces my production costs,” said Helena, a young woman from Manica Province. She learned how to run a small business with the support of a Spotlight Initiative-supported CSO and now makes a living selling soap.
Having access to and control of their resources gives these women decision-making power over their lives, helping to prevent economic dependency and abuse.
A stronger partnership
Some challenges remain: civil society and government institutions responding to GBV are getting stronger, but coordination and logistics across the vast country remain challenging. Shifting mentalities and behaviour towards women’s and girls’ rights takes time, but remains critically important. To this end, a strengthened partnership between the Government of Mozambique, the EU, the UN and civil society is crucial.
The Spotlight Initiative continues to support women like Maria*, 25, from Manica, who was beaten by her partner while pregnant. With help from community activists, Maria found safety in a women’s shelter supported by the programme. Here, she has not only found protection but also learned that survivors have choices when they are supported. “I can approach another woman and tell her that she does not need to suffer. I have learned that we can report abuse because if we don’t speak up, violence will never end.”
The stories of Amina, Dalva, Denardina, Guidion, Helena, Isaura, Maria and Selma remind us that violence against women and girls can be challenged. Attitudes and mindsets can be changed.
Under the Government’s leadership, together with civil society, the Spotlight Initiative continues working hand in hand with men and boys, women and girls, towards a Mozambique where every woman and girl can live a life free from violence.
*names were changed to protect the privacy of survivors