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Living in the shadow of violence

Domestic violence has been on the increase partly because most of the women are poor, illiterate and do not know their rights. But now, a group of women organizations is determined to enlighten them on their rights.
Fred Katerere

For the past two years, 23-year-old Isabel Ucucho has been living in fear of attacks from her husband - who once nearly killed her. Her crime? She was accused of promiscuity. The husband could not be satisfied with Isabel's explanations that the man she was talking to on that fateful day was only a stranger who was asking for directions to a place he was visiting.

Pedro, the husband, then took the law into his hands and meted his own justice. He assaulted Isabel with a whip and at the same time kicking her with booted feet. "I can't still remember for how long it lasted. When I woke up I was in hospital heavily bandaged on my arms and legs. It was like I was having a bad dream, but reality came that I had nearly died,'' she recounted in a recent interview. Her husband has since disappeared - some relatives think he has gone illegally to South Africa, but the fearful wife thinks he is in the country and will come for her again.

Ucucho left the family home in Inhambane province, 700 kilometres north of Maputo to the capital. She is now living with relatives. Her family members persuaded her not to report the assault to the police, promising to solve the matter at the family level. The family 'judges' never met and she continues to be haunted by the fact that one day Pedro will resurface and beat her again. "Up to now I still fear he will come and beat me up again. My family are even powerless to stop him, because he paid lobola for me and he has power over what ever I have to do,'' said the tearful mother of two. She was also separated from her children as her in-laws forcibly took them from her.

Isabel's case is not unique in this Southern African nation of 18 million. A lot of women are living in the shadow of violence. It is against this background that in 1996 several women organizations in the country formed a single group that would address violence against their peers. The group was named "All Against Violence''. At its inauguration the group embarked on a three-year multi-disciplinary programme that was aimed at covering civic education and the replacement of the existing legislation that discriminated against women.

It also sought to establish concrete support to victims of violence and investigation of the dimension of the problem. The group noted that high incidences of violence against women were a major threat to their security.

The group comprises the following organizations; Women in Development Co-ordination, Women's Forum (Forum Mulher), Mozambican Association for Women in the Judiciary, Mozambican Association for Women and Education, a service centre at Maputo Central Hospital known as KULAYA, the Centre for African Studies, Mozambican Women's Organisation and the Women, Law and Development Association. The member organisations and institutions work on their respective areas of speciality, ranging from co-coordinating activities and disseminating information, replacing the existing legislation, counseling and psychological servicing and civic education, to the establishment of violence support units.

Although the Mozambican Constitution forbids discriminations based on race, sex, religion or disability - there is lack of specific mechanisms in place to ensure the discrimination does not occur. A recent document published by some Non Governmental Organisations working with abused women, noted that the most affected were rural women. The group has of late been calling upon the government to revise the penal code to include provisions that will lead to the prosecution of perpetrators, document the cases and encourage victims to report cases.

While the formation of organizations like the "All Against Violence" is welcome news - it is only the urban-based women who will benefit. For a lot of women - because of high levels of illiteracy and poverty - do not know their rights. As the country joins other nations on November 25 to commemorate the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women, the government and NGOs will again speak at length on the need to stop violence against women. But in Mozambique, like many developing nations the rural women will not be spared from cultural laws that dictate they should submit to their husbands.

This submission will continue to linger in the community unless organizations like "All Against Violence" take the issue to the grassroots level. Although in Mozambique there are no legal restrictions hindering women to participate in politics, cultural factors inhibit their participation. The picture of violence against women on the African continent is the same. The United Nations Development Fund for Women, (UNIFEM) noted in a 1999 report on the need to uplift the rights of African women. "African women continue to face stiff challenges. They are profoundly affected by the continent's deteriorating macroeconomic situation, deepening poverty and recurrent conflicts and wars". "The HIV/AIDS pandemic exacerbates this situation, as women have to bear most of the health, economic and social consequences of the epidemic," noted UNIFEM.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 15 million women are infected with HIV/AIDS, representing 58% of the people infected in the continent, and countless other women are taking care of sick family members and orphan children, receiving no recognition or compensation for their work.

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