We are just hearing some good news this week from our program officer Michael Chimedza in Maputo that Mozambique’s parliament has passed a bill on domestic violence. This is a significant milestone for women in that it now allows police and prosecutors to act directly against perpetrators of domestic violence against women and children as a “public crime” or criminal matter. This is significant: the police no longer have to wait for a victim to file a formal complaint to take action. According to reports in the media, “The bill states that in any case of domestic violence, the minimum and maximum prison terms established for crimes such as assault and causing grievous bodily harm will be increased by a third.”
More progressive laws that protect the rights of women are part of Oxfam America’s work to reduce women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. Violence (which can be physical, psychological, even economic) violates the basic rights of women and lowers their status in society. Discrimination and lack of respect for women affects their health directly in many ways, and increases their exposure to HIV. Better laws and policies will build respect for the rights of women and girls, and reduce the likelihood of HIV infection.
This is just the latest achievement for Oxfam’s partners in Mozambique. They also advocated for a 2004 Family Law that redefined the definition of family and marriage, giving widows and children rights to assets in the event of a divorce or the death of a father. Oxfam also helped groups in Mozambique create a new Land Law in 1997 that accorded rights to own property to illiterate women farmers based on oral testimony.
Civil society groups in Mozambique have made huge strides in their work over the last few years. With some help from Oxfam, they have worked directly with human rights groups in Zimbabwe, which promulgated a new domestic violence law in 2006. Oxfam’s partners in Mozambique also participated in the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York, which helped them to develop their advocacy skills and go beyond the delivery of services to women and girls to become organizations that can advocate for new laws and other ways of bringing sustainable change. Women’s organizations in Mozambique are also working relentlessly to teach everyone about these new laws, as many families live in very traditional villages in rural areas and have no idea any of these laws even exist.
“This is a great achievement for the women of Mozambique,” Chimedza said about the new domestic violence bill in an email to me. “It goes to show that our partners have become strong actors in pushing legal reform that promotes the rights of women, as this process took them a shorter time than the Family Law.”
Michael’s email contains a quote from Samora Machel, Mozambique’s first president who died with 24 others in a suspicious plane crash in 1986:
“The Emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and pre-condition for its victory. The main objective of the revolution is to destroy the system of exploitation and build a new society which releases the potentialities of HUMAN BEINGS… “