The uphill task to eliminate violence against women in Mozambique and Southern Africa

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“My parents did not want to get married because I suffer from epilepsy. However, I insisted that I wanted to get married so my parents spoke to my husband explaining to him of my condition. He accepted and promised to look after me. After we married and had children he changed and became very violent with me. Many time when I suffered epileptic seizures he would bit me very brutally to the point of causing injuries,” narrated Isabel, a member of Mozambican NGO dealing with women who suffer domestic violence.

The 41 year old mother of four continued: “For many years I endured this treatment because I did not want to abandon my children and I also loved my husband. I also worried about how I was going to survive since I depended on him financially. But the beating was ever increasing. A few days after a beating, he would apologize and promise that it would not happen again but for some reason that became a routine. One of the times, he tied my hands and legs and beat so much that I thought he was going to kill me. That was the day I decided to leave him and seek help from my friends who took me to this association.”

Unfortunately, Isabel´s case is not an isolated one. The Mozambique Interior Ministry (MINT) two years ago conducted a pioneering study which revealed that more than 50% of women have suffered some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence.

It is a well-known fact that, in Mozambique, most of the violence that takes place, both in the public and domestic spheres, is perpetrated by men against women. Also, almost all of the violent crime in the streets is committed by young men and consequently almost 95% of imprisoned populations in Mozambique are young men.

This study was a follow up of some strategies and programmes that authorities have undertaken in the past 20 years to address the problem. This fight against gender violence has led to the adoption of principles and standards to protect women’s rights.

Some of these initiatives include, for example, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1993), the Beijing Declaration (1995), the Solemn Declaration of Gender in Africa (2004) and the Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' rights on Women (2005) and the Addendum to the Gender and Development Declaration: Declaration by the Heads of State or Government of the Commonwealth for the Southern African Development Community (SADC-1997).

The latter, refers, specifically, to the need to enact legislation on "sexual offenses and domestic violence," "ensure police, judicial, health, welfare and other (...) and establish specialized units to address violence against women and children.

Since the adoption of such programmes and policies, Mozambique has made great strides in combating gender based violence. However, much more remains to be done to achieve the 2015 target of reducing by 50% the cases physical, sexual and psychological gender based violence.

Take for instance, Malua´s case, a teenager studying at the at the S.O.S. Children’s Village – run secondary school. Malua is the most outgoing of the group and takes on an active role in the School Club, where she goes every Thursday. One Thursday, Malua managed to gain courage to tell the group that over the past month, the Mathematics teacher had been threatening her several times to fail her if she didn’t have sex with him and found out that three other friends, were being threatened by the same teacher. They decided to join forces and take action.

These girls are not alone. Across Mozambique, seven in every ten girls know of cases of sexual harassment and abuse in their school. At school many teachers condition grade-giving to sex. More than half of girls are married before reaching the age of 18. Girls do not know where to report abuse. Fear silences them and often they drop out of school.

"Children are especially vulnerable to violence in Mozambique, where more than one in every two girls is married by the age of 18," says UNICEF Deputy Representative, Dr. Roberto De Bernardi. "At school, some teachers give passing grades in exchange for sexual favours, and because schools have done little to prevent this, girls don't know where to go and they often drop out. There is a culture of fear and silence."

"Mozambique is taking action to tackle this grave situation," continued Dr. Bernardi. "The country has laws and national plans of action, but the pace of change is slow in light of the urgent situation of millions of Mozambican girls, which is made worse by poverty, impunity and a fragile national child protection system."

In supporting the government to address the problem, UN agencies including UNWOMEN, UNICEF, UNFPA and IOM are working together and with Civil Society Organizations and other stake holders in a campaign known as UNiTE, spearheaded by the UN Secretary General. In Mozambique, the initiative aims at transforming mentalities and attitudes to end violence against women in schools throughout the country.

The high levels of violence against women in Mozambique and its acceptance as a socio-cultural and traditional norm by many remain a major constraint to the implementation of Gender Equality commitments in the country.

In fact, this challenge is not unique to Mozambique. All Southern Africa Development Community Countries (SADC) view violence against women with great concern and have covenant to collectively end it.

In this regard and in preparation for the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) taking place in New York, March 4 to 15, SADC Ministers responsible for Gender/ Women’s Affairs met in Maputo, Mozambique on the 14th February 2013 to discuss the SADC Position and to review Progress made on the SADC Regional Gender Programme.

The meeting; attended by Ministers and Senior Government Officials from Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kingdom of Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, the Kingdom of Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia Zimbabwe and host Mozambique; acknowledged that the SADC region has high incidences of Violence Against Women and Girls, particularly domestic violence that is interlinked to HIV and AIDS and poverty.

The meeting condemned the ongoing occurrences of armed conflict, resulting in sexual violence, especially rape against women, which is used as a weapon of war in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and called upon SADC and the UN Security Council to expedite the deployment of its Rapid Brigade to neutralize the negative forces in the DRC and adopt any other necessary measures to stop violence.

The SADC authorities reiterated the importance of key priority concerns for the region, in particular the need to address domestic violence more effectively, dealing with the root causes of violence against women, developing robust sensitisation programmes targeting families and communities especially in rural areas, and prioritisation of activities on socialisation with a view to change mindsets and attitudes as well as strengthening efforts towards economic empowerment of women.

The gathering, amongst others, committed to initiate and advocate for high-level campaigns that address the fundamental root causes of Violence Against Women and Girls and targeting the family with a focus on socialization and encourage traditional and religious leaders to intensify and strengthen their efforts in the fight against Violence Against Women and Girls.

Speaking at the official opening ceremony of this meeting, Minister of Gender and Social Action of Mozambique, Iolanda Cintura Seuane, highlighted that the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will discuss the Priority Theme: “The elimination and the prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls and the Review Theme: “The sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including in care giving in the contexts of HIV and AIDS”.

She underlined the commitment of the SADC Member States to addressing Violence Against Women and Girls as demonstrated by the adoption of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in 2008 and other regional and international instruments. She emphasized the need for effective implementation of commitments made by Member States to address violence against women and children in collaboration with NGO’s, Development Partners, the Private Sector and the communities. She further reiterated the need to place special emphasis on economic empowerment of women with a view to increase access to, control and management of resources as a means to reduce the vulnerability of women to dependency and violence.

The meeting also considered and adopted two important documents namely the Outcome Document on the SADC Position of the 57th Session of the UN CSW as well as the Draft Agreed Conclusions on the Priority Theme on the Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls with inputs from SADC.

SADC Ministers also noted the progress on the status of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and commended the Ten (10) SADC Member States that have ratified the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development namely; among them, Mozambique.

Speaking before departing to New York for the CSW meeting, UN Women Representative to Mozambique Ms. Valeria de Campos Mello emphasized the need for the UN to continue supporting the efforts made by all stake holders to eliminate violence against women.

“Women in Mozambique remain vulnerable because of many facts including economic and cultural factors”, she explains. However, we are committed to supporting the Government, Civil Society Organizations and the general population to consolidate gains made and do more to implement existing legislation and policies to achieve a society where women and men live safely and in harmony.

“The target is reducing gender based violence against women by 50% by 2015 is ambitious. At the same time it is achievable if all of us work in collaboration and deep commitment towards this noble vision of a society that is free from gender based violence”, appealed the UN Women Representative in Mozambique.

The Commission on the Status of Women is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. Every year, representatives of Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide.

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