Joel Libombo

Joel Libombo

Date: June 5, 2012
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Mozambican Minister of Youth and Sport Joel Libombo takes pride in the fact that it is the young women in Mozambique who have shined in sport. They have even surpassed the men despite the obvious disadvantages they face. “Their (the women) shining in sport has just been natural,” he said.

The female basketball team has in the past been selected for the All African Games. The male basketball team has not although it has had the same opportunities.

Maria Lourdes Matola, a woman, won gold at the Olympics, the first and only Olympic medal for Mozambique. She is seen as a shinning role model for Mozambican and African women.

Previously a physical education teacher, the minister recalled how he encouraged women’s empowerment through sport. A significant part of the Mozambican population is Muslim. He explained how often Muslim parents did not allow their daughters to participate. “We began a sensitization campaign and in the end the Muslim parents allowed the girls to participate and even wear shorts for the lessons.”

Explaining his background and beliefs Libombo recalled that:

I was part of the nationalist movement. I’m a (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) Frelimo militant and I was strongly influenced by the Presbyterian Church. And I have always been part of the movement for more gender equality. Ever since I was young, my education taught me that both sexes should participate equally. I learnt this through the church, at home, in Frelimo and in this ministry. I feel strongly that the movement to create more gender equality is part of me. I also participate in a cultural group in which I used to encourage the girls to perform dances that are traditionally danced by boys and men, like makwela. We also encouraged girls to play instruments like tibila, which are usually reserved only for men to play. This shocked the older generation. But we were breaking taboos.

Libombo said that the gender balance in the sports ministry has evolved naturally. In his office he has more women than men. “My personal view is that there should be equality in all spheres. I don’t believe that when a woman arrives home from work she should be the one to go to the kitchen to cook, wash so she has no time for herself.”

The minister was shocked to notice the extent to which women do almost all the physical work in the central province of Sofala. “Who builds the house? It is the women. Who cultivates? It is the women. The men just fish. In my ethnic group, Ronga, men do not wash clothes. But in my household it was not like that. My parents set me free from these beliefs.”

He added that the cultural beliefs that disadvantage women are gradually changing especially in the urban areas, mainly due to the government policies and the pressure from civil society.

The major contribution to gender equality, he said, is not legislation, but the philosophy adopted during the liberation struggle that women should have equal opportunity. From that time on, women knew that they had the right to the same chances as a man. During the struggle, women served as soldiers, and political prisoners, risking their lives and still looking after children. “Our country is prioritizing the struggle against poverty,” he noted. “Women play an important part in this. Women are taking part in diverse areas including road construction, as agricultural extension officers and as foster mothers to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.”

The Minister is running HIV/AIDS peer education projects adapted to different cultural realities. For example, there are different approaches for Muslim women in the north, urban and rural women. “We take this into account and are sensitive. We’re using sport a lot to pass messages on HIV/AIDS.”

In the rural areas where patriarchal attitudes predominate, he said, what is needed is “education, education and education. Girls must stay in school, they must not drop out. And more than that they need social/cultural activities. Often after five hours of schooling, the girls just stay at home cooking food and washing clothes. Girls need to be integrated into cultural activities, right from when she is a small child as this opens her mind and encourages her to participate in society.”

Libombo’s mother was 15 years old when he was born. “I have so much love for her. She dropped out of school but returned to study in her thirties,” he said proudly.

The government is pushing to break down gender stereotypes in occupations. “The church, youth groups and other civic organizations are gaining force and can contribute a lot to help advance girls and women in rural areas,” Libombo said enthusiastically. “It is important for young people so that they can choose themselves what they want to be, whether it be teacher, engineer or doctor.”

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