In Mozambique, more than 20 per cent of girls aged between 13 and 17 have been married or live with someone as if they were married. Women’s support groups are putting thousands of them on the road to financial independence, making them less vulnerable to gender-based violence.Teresa Gala is a 44-year-old mother of five. She was married at 14, and had to leave school because of her new circumstances. For more than three decades, her days were filled with domestic chores and taking care of her children. During the agricultural season, Ms. Gala added to her daily routine by working on her family farm.
However, her thoughts always remained focused on having her own business, one that would give her financial independence.
“Since I didn’t study and didn’t have my livelihood, I always had to ask my husband for money, “says Ms. Gala. “Being aware that he didn’t earn much, sometimes I asked almost nothing, but I still heard ‘no’ many times. It was very humiliating”.
Three decades ago, when she got married, there was almost no debate about child marriage in the country, but things are changing for the better. Since 2019, the Spotlight Initiative, a global initiative of the United Nations funded by the European Union, has been supporting the approval and implementation of Mozambican laws that protect women and girls from gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as early marriages.
A safe space to thrive
In 2021, life improved for Ms. Gala, when she joined the Tambara Women’s Association (ASMTA) in Manica province, an organization backed by the Spotlight Initiative. These associations and women’s groups create support networks where women can learn and grow together economically, and create trusting relationships and safe spaces to address issues related to gender-based violence and women’s rights. In Mozambique, over the past year, the Spotlight Initiative supported more than 9,000 women in this way.
Through the group, Ms. Gala had access to a “business kit” which included the initial funds for her to start a company selling yogurt made from Malambe (baobab tree fruit) and Maheu (a fermented corn drink).
In the Tambara district, where Ms. Gala lives, temperatures easily reach over 40 degrees Celsius but, by investing her first profits in a freezer, she was able to make Maheu and Malembe ice cream, which was an immediate hit with her customers.
With more money coming in, Ms. Gala was able to buy a cell phone, enabling her to communicate with clients and social contacts, and join the national mobile financial system.
With proceeds from her micro-enterprise, she now contributes to the household expenses and pays the university fees for one of her daughters, who is studying for a health degree.
“My business makes me feel more respected at home. Today I am a financially stable woman, with savings, who contributes to household expenses and the education of my children”, she says. “I no longer have to wait for my husband to meet my financial needs”.