Mozambique: Journey of a gender, HIV and AIDS activist

Mozambique: Journey of a gender, HIV and AIDS activist

Date: November 18, 2015
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Namaacha, Mozambique, 19 November, 2015: I am a mother of four children, one boy and three girls and have seven grandsons. Because I did not study a lot, my life was about doing business and taking care of the house.

My life was never easy at home, I had suffered abuse that negatively affected my life and this was perpetrated by my husband.

My life became even harder when I tested positive for HIV and disclosed my status. I was infected by my husband who had an affair with someone who was already infected.

This action and decision made people say that it was my fault that I was infected by the virus, that I had an affair outside my marriage and brought the infection to my husband. I suffered discrimination in my family and the community I lived in. It was very difficult.

The situation reduced me to useless person. I lost respect in my family and within the community. I was suffering in silence and things were only getting worse, so I decided to seek treatment and also joined the counselling forum. This helped me overcome the stigma and discrimination that I was going through.

Gender Links (GL) arrived in Namaacha with the entrepreneurship programme and I was one of the programme beneficiaries. The programme started and this was when I attended the “I story” workshop and managed to open up with the consultant through writing down my own story.

I had my first contact with GL through the Namaacha Council and its gender focal person. At that time I was suffering stigma and discrimination and didn’t know if what I was doing in sharing my story was a good thing to do.

I was very shy and nervous because as I was sharing my story all the pain and suffering I was going through was coming back, just like it was the day I discovered that I was infected. But thank God the consultant was patient with me and even advised me not to stop sharing my story and to cry as much as I could because it was a way of healing the wounds.

Even with tears in my eyes, I managed to continue sharing the story of all the suffering I went through with my husband and his relatives as well as in the community.

I did suffer a lot, and my intersection with GL changed my life, my way of thinking and seeing life. I felt an enormous relief after I my story but at the same time I felt ashamed thinking that it did not take the right decision. When I left the council that day and went back home I was feeling like there was something new happening in my life but I wasn’t sure what it was. Only on the following day when I woke up and realised what had happened to me the previous day was good.

After two days I then went back to attend the first phase of the entrepreneurship program were I learned a lot of strategies regarding business management. The consultant did teach me and my colleagues how to start a business and produce a plan for that business. I had to draw a plan based on what I used to sell, “meat” and come up with organised and realistic calculations and the real costs involved in my business.

As I was moving forward with the training I then realized that something serious and good was about to happen to me in my business. I had faced some challenges in doing my previous business before joining GL project and this helped me to realise that I should be more serious with the learning I was benefiting from.

After the first phase of the business I realized that I should increase my business by selling blankets and Duvets. I then realised that I should open a bank account to keep my savings.

While I was doing the business plan I realised that the only way to overcome the stigma and discrimination was to request the council to provide me with a space where I could meet fellow women who had also gone through discrimination because of their HIV status. This was the beginning of another journey, of a “Gender and HIV/AIDS activist”.

After few months I have realised that many women needed my support and I have decided to approach the local department of health and the hospital to help me to create an association of women living with HIV and Aids on one hand while on the other I would continue with my business.

I created health committees in Namaacha to respond to the needs of many women and men that were looking for my support. Many people started to disclose their status and receive counselling through my own experience and also the learnings I have gained from GL. The council also helped me with transport to move around and provide counselling to those that were not able to reach me.

With the link with the health department and the hospital I was able to access laws and policies which I used to disseminate information to many people via the committees and association; enabling them to know and understand their rights, especially the law 9/2009 about Domestic Violence in Mozambique.

My life then started to improve more and more and the business started to grow. I then started to have time constrains because both the association and the business needed to be taken care of by me.

I started to feel challenged because I had to take care of people in need at the same time traveling to buy things to sell. I knew that my absence was a problem but because I realised that I had trained other women I then decided to give them roles and responsibility in order to respond to the big demand.

The violence I was going through stopped. People that discriminated me, including the woman who caused the divorce with my husband, as well as the one from whom my husband got infected, decided to join me when she realized that she was extremely sick and needed help. Today I do provide treatment for her for free not even reminding her of the violence she caused me.

When I look back I realise the change that happened in my life and in the life of those I have been helping. Now my life changed from a discriminated women to an activist, I promote debates whenever needed.

While recognising the change that happened in my life I would also like to thank GL for all the support provided, helping me to heal my soul, teaching me to do business, teaching me my rights and the support in gaining my self-esteem and confidence. I now know my rights and also ensure that other women know and demand their rights, things that would never happen if GL didn’t start the program in Namaacha council. I also thank the council for selecting me.

As I move forward I would like to grow my association bigger and help other women across the country, I would like them to know their rights and see women smiling the way I am smiling today after overcoming all challenges and barriers caused by GBV.

I would like to see more women overcoming the culture of silence – suffering in silence – this is a huge enemy that takes many women into frustration and in some cases giving up to their life.

(Lina Julio Sitoe is a participant in the GL Empowering Women, Ending Violence programme in Mozambique. This article is part of a special Gender Links News Service Series for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day).


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