What does it mean to be a Mozambican female?
It means you handwash clothes for your whole family at least once a week.
It means you cook three meals a day for your family.
It means you haul water every day for your family.
It means you tend to the garden, if you have one.
All of which mean you have less access to education, whether you are a child or an adult, because these chores take up a lot of your day.
It means you are responsible for whatever child is within your sight.
It means you carry a baby on your back, and everything else on your head.
It means you are judged for drinking alcohol.
It means you are afraid to tell a man ‘no,’ ‘stop,’ or ‘I don’t like that.’
It means you aren’t always the boss of your body.
It means that when you have your period, life stops-you can’t go to work or school- because you have no access to pads, tampons, or a Diva Cup. Not to mention having no running water during this time.
It means stricter rules for you, and less freedom with your “free time,” which barely exists as it is.
It means taking care of each other, in sickness and in health.
It means that you could be part of the 50% of females here that are married before the age of 18, part of the 90% that drops out of school before finishing secondary, or part of the 41% (between the ages of 15-19) that are already mothers, or pregnant.
It means community, like none I have ever seen.
And it means you have strength, like none I have ever seen.
These things are true for orphaned girls at a rescue center, our 7 year old neighbor from training, our host mom, our high school and primary school students, our market ladies, the majority of females in Mozambique.
After nine months of observing and learning about the lives of females here, and hearing their stories firsthand, I had the chance to take 3 of my female students to a workshop for the REDES program in Mozambique. REDES means Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educação e Saude, or Girls in Development, Education, and Health. REDES was started by Peace Corps Volunteers about 11 years ago and there are now 119 groups operating in Mozambique.
At the three-day training, participants from the Gaza and Inhambane provinces of Mozambique learned about sexual and reproductive health, decision-making, goal-setting, finances and entrepreneurship, Malaria, HIV/AIDs, and their rights. Some groups traveled with Peace Corps Volunteers and others traveled solely with their Mozambican group leader, as many REDES groups now operate without the day-to-day support of a Peace Corps Volunteer!
This workshop was a unique opportunity to educate girls about topics that aren’t often widely talked about in Mozambique, and to present them with the opportunity to start or participate in a REDES group, where they will set goals for the future, continue discussions about rights and health and education, and learn to make and sell handicrafts.
It was also a special opportunity for me to get to know these three girls outside of school, to hang out, and talk about their lives. The discussions with them this weekend were some of the best I have had in Mozambique; We talked about body image (how it differs between Moz and America), racism, and how they would feel if they arrived in a country where there were no black people and every white person on the street yelled ‘black person, black person’ as they walked by (aka…how I feel when I walk down the road and everyone yells ‘white person, white person’…), breast feeding, menstruation, their families, their goals for the future. I was impressed by these bright, silly, and confident young women, and it was a much-needed reminder of what I came here to do.
When I asked the girls if they learned new things this weekend they said, “Yes teacher, many new things.” And then Gina said, “I will go back and teach the girls in the dorm at school about these things.”
And I realized that this is how change begins, a little seed of new knowledge planted in a place where it can’t help but grow, like a dormitory full of adolescent girls.
Maybe these three girls, at least, will be the boss of their own body. Maybe they will remember their right to refuse sex or make a partner use a condom, avoid pregnancy before they are ready, and finish secondary school. Maybe they will insist on their partner getting tested for HIV. Maybe we can together make a bunch of homemade menstrual pads so girls in our community can go to school when they have their period. Already, I heard them tell some bothersome men ‘No! Leave us alone!’ in the bus station as we travelled back. Maybe they will go on to start their own business, or go to college and choose their career. And for this, maybe their sisters, brothers, friends, cousins, and future children will know these things too.
So, here’s a shout out to all the females out there: American, Mozambican, and otherwise. Força, ladies!