In Mozambique, we’re targeting the economic roots of gender-based violence

Olga Loforte Refugees and IDPs, Violence Against Women and Girls, Women's Economic Empowerment

In this blog for the 16 Days campaign, community activists Olga Loforte and Gilda Mendonça and Oxfam’s Helena Chiquele tell us about their efforts to empower displaced women by addressing barriers to schemes to support farmers

In Mozambique, most major civil society influencing happens in the capital, Maputo. This is even true for initiatives that target other provinces, including gender justice interventions. Well, in the northern province of Nampula we are breaking this pattern. Led by Oxfam partner Ophenta, a feminist community-based group, we are organising locally in the north to shine a light on conditions for female internally displaced persons (IDPs) and demand action to bring the comprehensive social, political and economic empowerment that will help to prevent gender-based violence.

Organising to shine a light on conditions for displaced women

Ophenta has already led local implementation of Oxfam’s “ENOUGH” campaign against gender-based violence and also led on Oxfam work to provide young women with access to better sexual and reproductive health care funded by Global Affairs Canada. This year, as we celebrate the 30th year of 16 Days of Activism, Ophenta gathered like-minded women’s rights organisations in Nampula for the first ever northern gender forum (targeting the provinces of Nampula, Cabo Delgado and Zambézia) under the theme of building an alternative for the integration and social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls. It also held a Solidarity-based Economic Fair, aimed at promotion of economic change as a means to strengthen women’s wider position in society. The theme was “female empowerment and human life sustainability.”

A key area of focus for both events was female IDPs in northern Mozambique, which includes the three provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa. The humanitarian crisis there is linked to terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado dating back to October 2017 and exacerbated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and Cyclone Kenneth, which hit the provinces in 2019. Almost a thousand lives have been lost in the attacks, according to official sources, and around 700,000 people displaced. Many seek refuge in neighbouring provinces, including Nampula, where two major government-led resettlement centres have been opened.

The displaced women there face extraordinary challenges: services to respond to gender-based violence (GBV) cases affecting them are under pressure and underfunded. According to the UN Population Fund, 75% of IDPs are women and girls with 160,000 of reproductive age; 19,000 are pregnant; more than 2,500 need care for sexual violence and 1,500 pregnant women face obstetric complications. IDPs’ lives have been upended, social support systems disrupted and access to social services affected. Cases of GBV have spiked, with the pandemic compounding the crisis by affecting the availability of health services, and diverting further the already poor government attention and resources for fighting GBV.

The central role of economic empowerment in the battle against GBV

It has been documented that economic freedom plays a pivotal role in ability to escape GBV, which is why Ophenta and its partners are campaigning for economic empowerment to tackle the violence. We are calling for the promotion of economic practices based on feminist principles such as empathy, solidarity, inclusion, autonomy and participation as part of a feminist economic post COVID-19 response and recovery.

In northern Mozambique, the recent events organised by Ophenta focused on two key barriers to empowerment for displaced women: access to land and funding.

Schemes to support agriculture block women – and favour political allies

More than three quarters of the local population rely on agriculture to make ends meet. The gendered labour divide leaves women responsible for subsistence crops, with men having more responsibility and control over greater value crops. Despite representing the major part of the agricultural workforce, women neither own land nor control the trading of their produce.

A major barrier to the empowerment of women in the country is that government programmes to support farmers serve the ruling party interests; moreover, the criteria for access to the funds overlook the fact that the bulk of potential beneficiaries are female smallholders, as are the bulk of family farmers. 

A study by the Centre for Public Integrity (CPI), another Oxfam local partner, looking at the government’s SUSTENTA programme to support agriculture was conducted between November 2020 and March 2021 in Nampula, Tete and Zambézia provinces. This revealed that most farmers benefiting from programme support have links with Mozambique’s ruling party. The result of all these barriers is that female smallholder farmers find it all too easy to fail when applying for funds. 

We have published a position paper calling for local government action that can remove barriers to empowerment and change the reality on the ground for displaced women, including the gender-based violence they face. In it, we demand:

  • Fair, inclusive allocation of resources, sensitive to women’s human rights.
  • The creation of specific mechanisms for women and girls to access resources and income through government, donors and credit institutions.
  • Tailored allocation of agriculture support funds that takes account of women’s skills, interests and perspectives.
  • Access to basic health services, social protection, and economic empowerment to build women’ resilience against violence.
  • A recovery and conflict reconstruction that is led by women and government promotion of women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict contexts.

This is the last in a sequence of four blogs Views & Voices has published for the 2021 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, as part of a range of content across Oxfam. The first blog is about violence against LGBTQIA+ people in central America; the second, looks back at a six-year programme to mobilise communities in South and East Asia against GBV; and the third introduces a guide to help women’s economic empowerment projects manage the risks of GBV. You can also read the launch paper for Oxfam’s 16 Days campaign and a blog introducing the campaign.

About the authors: Olga Loforte is Executive Director of Ophenta; Gilda Mendonça is  Ophenta Communications Officer; and Helena Chiquele is Oxfam in Southern Africa’s Gender Justice Program and Policy Manager