As we mark the International Women’s Day on March 8, I invite you to reflect on and celebrate women’s achievements in Mozambique and around the world. Mozambique has many successful women who have worked through many challenges to become nationally and internationally recognized. From liberation fighters, to artists, athletes, businesswomen, scientists, amongst others, Mozambique is endowed with inspirational role models for the new generation of young girls. The demonstration of the possible is very important for girls given their many unique barriers to success.
As a woman, I too had many role models in my life. My most important one being my mother who valued education, hard work and simplicity above all. There was no differentiation of chores based on gender. My parents couldn’t afford to do that as they had to run a farm through all the vagaries of an often uncooperating climate and weather. All hands were key to success.
International Women’s Day is not just a celebration. This day is a call for action. It is a reminder to the importance of ensuring that women have an equal chance of contributing to the economy as much as in the household. But it’s not enough to only discuss this one day a year! We all value the women in our lives, be they our mother, sister, aunt, daughter – and we value them every day for what they mean to us and what they do for us. Let’s give this same importance to all women – they are after all half of the population of the world!
I truly believe that a big hindrance to women’s empowerment is the confusion around what empowerment means. A common misconception is that empowerment is a substitution of power - men must lose theirs for women to gain theirs. This couldn’t be further from what I as a woman perceive gender equality to be about. Many women I speak to want space and opportunities; opportunities to compete for jobs; opportunities to borrow money to start a business; and for girls, opportunities to learn without harassment so that they can focus on their schoolwork. Girls also want opportunities to get early career advice, scholarships and encouragement to do Science Technology and Mathematics subjects and become scientists. I like to think about what it must have taken for Marie Curie to discover radioactivity, which led to great advances in medicine – apart from earning her two Nobel Prizes.
Achieving the goal of equality of opportunities require concerted efforts to accelerate the catch-up and reduce the significant gaps for women in key human capital indicators. Although Mozambique has a good legislative and strategic framework to promote equal access for men/women to human capital development, the implementation of these have lagged and most key indicators show stagnation.
Well documented evidence shows that gender inequality in Mozambique is acute, with the country ranking 127 out of 162 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. Violence against women is rampant: one-third of 15-year-old adolescent girls declare that they are survivors of physical violence; 46 percent say they are survivors of domestic, sexual, or emotional violence from their partners; and 70 percent report being harassed at school.
Many young girls in Mozambique do not have the opportunity to live their childhoods or pursue their aspirations. Mozambique has the 10th highest child-marriage rate and one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world. A contraceptive prevalence at 25% among adult women results in an overall fertility rate of 4.9 children per woman, cementing poverty, and depriving the Mozambican economy of the input and dynamism of half of its population.
As a result, girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys. Women in Mozambique achieved, on average, only 1.4 years of schooling, two years below the average schooling among men of 3.4 years, which is also very low. Low education, particularly among women, has a perpetuating impact on the weak education and health of children, as Mozambican women are, in general, those who carry this responsibility at home according to the country’s social norms. And while female labor force participation (77 percent) may look reasonable at first glance, a closer look reveals that women mostly work in the informal sector, especially in agriculture (63 percent) and are largely underpaid. Only 6 percent of women are wage workers, against 24 percent of men. Private wage employment is skewed toward men, even though most of it is in the service sector and only 33 percent is in the traditionally male-dominated sectors of mining, manufacturing, and construction.
It’s therefore time for bold action to level the playing field if we are to decisively curb poverty. Inclusive societies do better in fighting poverty. It has long been well established, with ample evidence, that equal opportunity does not only bring about social benefits but is also good economics. Countries with greater gender parity do better socially and economically, period.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.
This is why at the World Bank; I have been pushing hard to instill a sense of urgency around gender issues. Our goal, as we embark on this endeavor is to support government and other development players to substantially increase women and girls access to sexual and reproductive health services, eliminate the gender gap at all levels in education, tackle head-on gender based violence, address the gender disparities in employment opportunities, and support women overcoming gender and social norms that prevent them from having a voice in society. For instance, the World Bank is supporting the Government towards increased equality of opportunities through a number of interventions such as the ongoing Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Project which includes interventions oriented to empower adolescent girls and young women; the Mozambique Primary Health Care Strengthening Program, which aims to improve reproductive and maternal health; the Improving Learning and Empowering Girls Project under preparation, which aims to support girls to complete primary education and enter secondary education; and the Investing in Human Capital and Preventing Conflict Escalation in Mozambique Project, under preparation, aiming to support human capital and women’s empowerment in the North of Mozambique.
As we adopt a bolder stance towards gender parity in our work, we need collective action to succeed, as women’s empowerment is everyone’s responsibility. Like in other major challenges of our time, this is also the time for collective individualism. In other words, our actions as individuals are crucial. As the adage goes, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. As individuals, we are part of a whole and our actions matter to our families, to our communities, and to society at large. The more we are aware of our bias and shortcomings and the need to address them, the more we embrace change, the better we will be as a society.
Mine is a call to action; a bold and consequential one so that our children, boys and girls, can inherit a better world. Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day but let’s ensure that action is throughout the year!
This oped was first published in Club of Mozambique.