True gender equality in Africa might seem a remote dream. But in Mozambique, small steps are being made in the fight for women’s rights thanks to the passion and determination of one 18-year-old girl, Suzete Sangula.
Incensed when a friend was forced to leave school after becoming pregnant by a male teacher, Suzete made it her mission to educate girls and young women about their rights and teach them strategies to defend them. Her work has already borne fruit in Maputo, and now Suzete is planning to expand her reach into rural Mozambique.
Witness follows Suzete through a typical fortnight, running a workshop in a high school and battling with bureaucracy to get permission to work farther afield. Suzete pushes both boys and girls to think about the consequences of inequality and harassment and about what they can do for things to change.
We meet one workshop student, Carolina, and see how her family dynamics are beginning to shift: as a result of talking with Suzete, Carolina felt strong enough to persuade her traditional parents to allow her to stay in school. And we meet Suzete's own family, who is broadly supportive of her campaign, but confess their fears that she will never find a husband because she is too talkative.
Mozambique is going through an economic boom and social change is inevitable. Suzete is determined to make sure that this change is progressive.
By Neil Shaw
Suzete's entry into the world of social activism was precipitated by her school friend becoming pregnant. A teacher was responsible, and he was not disciplined, while Suzete's friend had to leave school and was kicked out of her house.
Since then Suzete has held over 55 workshops at schools around Mozambique's capital city, Maputo, raising awareness around issues concerning women's rights.
What is most remarkable about her story is that Suzete works with practically no budget, yet her grassroots approach is probably more effective than many large organisations which are often bogged down by administration.
She is an example of the difference one person with vision and drive can make in society. It is hard not to be swayed by her passion, and teenage girls (and boys) across Maputo already have a clearer idea of what their rights are.
Since the struggle for independence, women's rights have been improving in Mozambique, and the law is becoming more in favour of equality of the sexes.
The 2005 Family Law is a clean break from previous laws by its implementation of total gender equality in this area. It has abolished the legal status of the husband as head of the family and new cases of polygamy are no longer recognised.
But on the ground much needs to be done, particularly in rural areas. And many women simply don't know what their rights are.
Although marriage under the age of 18 is illegal, it is still widespread. According to UNICEF, in Mozambique, more than one in two girls is married by the age of 18.
It is not uncommon for girls as young as 12-years-old to be married off, often spelling the end of their education. But studies show that as female school enrolment increases, there is a positive effect on society with lower fertility and infant mortality rates. Female enrolment in the capital city Maputo is good, but it is much lower in rural areas.
Women's rights activists recently took to the streets to protest a colonial era legal provision that exonerates a rapist if he marries his victim.
Mozambique is experiencing an economic boom, and substantial off-shore gas is about to be tapped. Is there a way for a cash bonanza to dovetail with a modernising society?
Suzete has such passion and energy and is already making a difference on the ground by letting girls know what their rights are. With more support she will make greater in roads, particularly into the rural areas, which is her goal.
Source: Al Jazeera