Women heroes soldier on

Date: January 1, 1970
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This year on 7 April, Women’s Day in Mozambique, many women still have tears on their chins from three recent disasters, two natural and one man-made. These disasters have affected the whole country, but the hardest hits are the thousands of mothers who are now relying on handouts to meet the basic needs of their children.

Almost exactly one month after the international day of the same theme, 7 April honours the gallant fighter Josina Machel, who died on 7 April 1970 in armed combat fighting Portuguese oppression. It is a day to celebrate women’s achievements in Mozambique and reflect on their fight for equal rights.
Coincidentally, 7 April is also the same day as the 1994 assassination of the first female prime minister in Africa, Agatha Uwilingiyimana, former Prime Minister of Rwanda, and the day that rights activists and revered politician Mahatma Gandhi suspended his campaign of civil disobedience in India in 1934.
Does Women’s Day make any difference to Mozambican women this year? Perhaps not much, but it is a day to reflect on women’s accomplishments, as well as review progress made in setting up laws that will pave way for equal rights both in times of disasters or in happiness.
Authorities in Mozambique have said that cyclone induced floods in the Zambezi Valley have affected 500 000 people, while the destructive winds brought by Cyclone Favio left 180 000 people destitute.
Women form a large part of the population in flood-affected areas. One wonders how a mother will feel seeing her belongings washing away in the rain and never seeing them again.
A friend of mine, Joana Alfred, from Quelimane city in the Zambezia province says, “Every year you are expected to count your losses after the floods.” Thousands of women living in the Zambezi Valley feel these same sentiments every rainy season.
It is ironic that every year both the international and national women’s days come at a time when the country is in the middle of natural disasters brought by the annual flooding. This year it was worse.
On 22 March the Malhazine armoury in Maputo city went up in flames as rockets and missiles slated for disarmament instead exploded and flew into residential and commercial areas. At least 102 people died and a further 500 suffered injuries.
Like the natural disasters, large percentages of the victims were women who had remained at tending the home, as their husbands, brothers and partners went out to the city to earn a living. The explosion also left a trail of destruction that saw infrastructure and homes demolished.
Television showed the injured and those running in attempts to escape the flying missiles, many of them women. The question that lingers in my mind is, why all this suffering?
Is one day worth commemorating the trials and tribulations these women go through everyday? Then why not make every day women’s day?
In Mozambique when the women are not ducking missiles or crossing flooded rivers to safety – they are ducking blows of an abusive partner, husband or a bully brother. As the perpetrators go away free, so do the hopes that many women had attached to legislation such as the Family Law, which could help deal with gender inequality in the country.  
When President Armando Guebuza signed the Family Law in March 2005, it was a moment for celebration – the status of women was legally redefined, and marriage laws were overhauled. However, two years down the line not much has changed.
I still see discrimination on gender lines wherever I go in the country. Be it in taxi, or even in a bank queue – there are still people who will tell you that is a woman’s job to this or that.
Even in the marriage circles, where Family Law is supposed to overhaul discrimination on gender lines, inequality continues. Girls are told to marry at a certain age and if she decides to postpone marriage then names will be found for her ridiculing her decision.
The Family Law intended to redefine the status of women in society and provide a balance between law and culture. It recognised customary or non-formal traditional marriages, and allowed widows to inherit land and other property.
Under the law, women now have the right to seek divorce in the case of domestic violence or infidelity, and to create and enforce prenuptial agreements.  It raised the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18, to encourage females to gain secondary education before marriage.
As Mozambican women celebrate their day on 7 April, they need to reflect on what the law has changed and what still remains to be improved. From this, they can then force the authorities to honour their promises.
It is important that such laws become reality. At the upcoming Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of State meeting in August, one of the issues on the table will be the elevation of the Declaration on Gender and Development to a Protocol.
The Protocol aims to strengthen the commitments of member states expressed in the declaration. Yet, it too will only make a difference to women in reality of it is implemented on the ground. I think this will be a positive step by the SADC region in solving inequalities brought through gender discrimination.
With just over 30 per cent representation in parliament, Mozambique has met the 30% goal set by SADC, but still has a way to go to meet the desired 50% representation of women in decision-making. In Mozambique, it is the duty of women in influential positions to lead the way in reviewing what the Family Law has achieved and mentoring other women to take up positions of power.
Although tears will not easily dry on their chins, the implementation of binding legislation will go a long way in paving gender equality to both Mozambican women and men. For our country to prosper and develop, all people must be encouraged to reach their full potential as individuals. After all, is that not what our heroes fought for?
Fred Katerere is the editor of Vista News, an English language news service agency based in Mozambique. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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