Lidia Brito – Mozambique

Lidia Brito – Mozambique

Date: July 2, 2012
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Missing the woods and the trees, Lidia Brito has served as Mozambique’s Minister of Higher Education, Science and technology, and is now the director of science policy and capacity building at UNESCO and a co-chairman of the conference titled Planet Under Pressure.

Globally, women comprise 12.1 percent of ministers of education (few countries have a separate ministry of higher education) and 4.7 percent of ministers of science, technology and research (IPU: 2000).

Lidia Brito is a Forester. The Minister studied for her first degree in forestry in Mozambique, then for a master’s degree and PHD in wood science in the United States.  It may be a surprising subject for a woman to choose. True in Mozambique, there are not too many women with PhDs in wood science, but Brito reminds the interviewer that “As many as 40 per cent of foresters in Mozambique are actually women. It’s very high number.  Mozambique is very rich in forestry and still has tremendous potential not only for macro economics but also micro economics; around a saw mill you can have very many small industries.”

She paused and smiled as she sat in her light, airy modern office. “I miss the forests. The forest is beautiful and quiet.” She conceded that she doesn’t get to the forest as much as she would like. Her family – she is a mother of two daughters – prefer the beach.  President Chissano appointed Brito as Minister when the ministry was created in January 2000. She served in that role for five years, before becoming  Advisor of the Mayor of Maputo for Strategic Planning and External Relations in the capital of Maputo.

Speaking fluently, confidently and articulately in English, when asked to what extent she should take on gender issues, she replies, “it my job to address all inequalities, gender included.”  Gender disparities are stark in education in Mozambique. Girls comprise 42 percent of learners at primary school, 36 percent at primary school and twenty percent at professional and vocational schools (UNIFEM, 1999).

Brito said encouraging girls to enter into higher education in all areas is a major challenge. “Girls drop out throughout the educational system, from primary until higher education.” Those girls that do get the chance to continue tend to narrow themselves to certain areas, surprisingly not always the ones they are stereotyped as being good at in other countries. In the private higher education institutions, which are growing, boys and girls comprise typically 50:50, probably because their parents are more educated, socially aware and wealthy. The public higher education institutions, which are more available to the relative small higher education population, show more clearly some of the challenges. “Mozambique is improving,” she said. In 1999, 25 per cent of student population was female in the public university, but in 2002 it had gone up to 30 per cent.

Surprisingly, medicine is most popular among girls and the boys less surprisingly choose engineering. “If you see Mozambican doctors going to a conference, you could wrongly assume think that there are some nurses included in the teams. In these international conference it is so unusual to have such a big number of female doctors. It was not unusual for the medical students, who were mostly girls, to have to invite the engineering students for their parties, and vice versa to get a gender balance.”

She talked enthusiastically about different initiatives during her time as Minister to encourage girls to enter all areas of higher education. “The engineering faculty is working with the secondary schools, whereby female engineers talk about their experiences to the pupils before they make their choices. We are also collaborating with the Ministry of Education to have career advice in schools. It will begin next year throughout the year. We will train the teachers to help the students to make career choices. We have a lot of problems of both boys and girls not being properly advised. For example, they enter the faculty to study medicine and then they find they are scared of blood. Some of them have no idea of what the different professions imply. Also girls often compete for the most competitive courses, and they do not get in. They need to be encouraged to try for some of the sciences, for example.”

There are also plans to support girls in further education whose families have been classified as very poor by the Ministry of Education and in the past have been supported under a programme to keep girls in school. “We don’t know when this will start as we don’t have the money yet.  The scholarship programme that exists already aims to get a balance of both boys and girls whenever possible in higher education.

As to her opinion on how much women MPs are responsible for change in the country she said, “it depends on person to person. The fact that you have such a big percentage of women in parliament is an advantage, not only in gender related issues but also in general. They do bring a different perspective to the different issues. Definitely on the Family bill, the civil society played a big role and women in society in general. It has been contested for a long time. I have heard women in parliament really defend the law and pushing for it, and I have heard others that don’t. But it is always positive that you have women in parliament. They are sensitive, but again we have men who are very sensitive to these issues and who argue that we need to change things. For example, they say we must protect the child more.

You need to have a balance. Because the characteristics of women and men are different whether it is our education or the traditional roles we are made to fulfil, it doesn’t matter, but we’re different. Women are usually are good at performing many jobs at the same time, and they have a very good sense of timing, for example. Men are usually more focused, probably losing opportunities with their time keeping but pursuing the time they have to focus on achieving a quality standard. So when you have the interaction you have the best of both of them, because they complement each other. Women have some experiences that have really improved the quality of debate in the Parliament, principally on the Family bill. If we had just one gender, the nature of the debate on the family bill would have been much weaker. It doesn’t mean that all women will defend their own perspective and all men theirs. My experience talking to MPs, is that it is difficult to know whether this one is going to defend or whether this one is not going to defend, just because she is a woman.”

Brito has now taken the issue of gender from her role as Minister to UNESCO, where she works on climate change, science policy and capacity building. With a wide range of experiences related to sustainable development and community based management, she is continuing to explore how policy drives social change. “We need to know whether and how certain policies really promote basic values in society, such as equality, inclusivity and access to resources.” With climate change most affecting women living in poverty, her approach is crucial to sustainable development.

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