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Mozambique: Uphill struggle to eliminate violence against women (ReliefWeb)

Isabel was happy when she met a man who promised to treat her well. She suffers from epilepsy, a condition of the nervous system which causes a person to have violent convulsions. But she was not expecting the violence which her husband inflicted on her after they were married.

Isabel is 41-years-old and has four children from the marriage. She says: “After we married and had children, he changed and became very violent with me. Many times when I suffered epileptic seizures he would bite me very brutally to the point of causing injuries.”

She endured this treatment for many years because she did not want to abandon her children. Despite the abuse, Isabel says she loved her husband. Also, she was worried about how she would survive, since the family depended on him financially.

For years, the beatings continued. Her husband always apologized a few days after abusing her and she always forgave him. This was the pattern of their marriage.

She remembers: “One of the times, he tied my hands and legs and beat [me] so much that I thought he was going to kill me. That was the day I decided to leave him and seek help from my friends.”

The Mozambique Interior Ministry reports more than 50 per cent of Mozambican women have suffered some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence. Seven in ten girls in the country know of cases of sexual harassment and abuse in their school.

This situation is not unique to Mozambique. Every country in the Southern Africa Development Community views violence against women with great concern and has agreed to work together to end it. The government of Mozambique is fighting gender violence by adopting international principles and standards to protect women’s rights. But legislation to ensure that men convicted of these crimes are punished is lacking.

Dr. Roberto De Bernardi is the Deputy Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Mozambique. He notes that Mozambican children are especially vulnerable to violence, with more than one in every two girls married by the age of 18.

He says: “At school, some teachers give passing grades in exchange for sexual favours, and because schools have done little to prevent this, girls don’t know where to go and they often drop out. There is a culture of fear and silence.”

Valeria de Campos Mello is a Mozambican Representative at UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. She says, “Reducing gender-based violence against women by 50% by 2015 is ambitious … [but] it is achievable if all of us work in collaboration and deep commitment towards this noble vision of a society that is free from gender-based violence.”

Isabel escaped from her violent husband and now works for a women’s association which helps victims of violence. She hopes that by publicizing gender-based violence in Mozambique, other abused women will be encouraged to come forward and get help. She would like her daughters to grow up in a country where violence toward women is a thing of the past.