Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Women's Place...

Mozambique is an extremely complicated place, as one would certainly expect. I would not say that I underestimated it's complexity, but I did naively believe that I had a basic grasp on Mozambique's political history and climate before our departure. I read and met with Carrie Manning and Anne Pitcher, threw myself into my individual research, and spoke endlessly with classmates about Frelimo, Renamo, colonization, and transitional democracy. Still, as I realized within fifteen minutes of being in Mozambique, this was certainly not enough. Even if we had been able to prepare for a year before our trip, I honestly feel we would only be grazing the surface of Mozambique's intricate politics. I remain in the same state of awe and fascination I found myself in September, when we first began meeting as a class. I truly feel that, even if I wrote dozens of pages, I would not be able to fully communicate the gender politics of Mozambique. In order to establish a focus for my research, I chose to concentrate solely on the gender policies of Frelimo and the ensuing implications for Mozambique as a country with consideration of the Marxist-Leninist history and in regard to the current multiparty system. The immensity of the topic allowed me access to a plethora of resources, but only few formulated a clear thesis regarding Frelimo's promised gender equality in the New Mozambique during the revolutionary period. The marginalization of women that transpired was arguably to a greater extent than that of which Mozambican women experienced under colonialism. At least the Portuguese colonists never promised women a respected place within society, only to do so with a wink and a nod. So I attempt to present that very thesis here, in my final African Democracy blog post. during the nationalist struggle for liberation, Frelimo carved out a place for women to be free and equal—just as the male Frelimo leaders demanded for themselves. However, the cultural attitudes that accepted women's inferiority as a basic truth overran Frelimo's revolutionary zeal and replaced women's liberation with expectations of submission, supporting roles, and domesticity. The transition to a multiparty system in the early 1990's, and the subsequent reformation of Frelimo governmental policy, again promised women an equal partnership within Mozambican government. Perhaps now, during the new wave of modernization for Mozambique (one at a global level), the stage will be set for greater gender development, as Mozambique asserts itself as a model of African democracy and renews its commitment to the development of Mozambican citizens.

At the dawn of the Mozambican independence struggle from colonial rule, Frelimo promoted equality for men and women as a combatant to outdated colonial inequality. Frelimo argued for female emancipation and promised equal rights upon independence; however they argued in rhetoric alone. Despite the promises of Frelimo, their actions rarely aligned with those which supported female liberation (Fallon 51). The 1975 constitution promoted gender equality and called for the elimination of oppressive colonial doctrine, though it was not codified substantially in civil or traditional law. Found within promises for gender equality, there existed “the intransigence of men who were not really willing to relinquish their advantages” (Sheldon 116). The term “advantages” in this statement may be interpreted as 'power,' as the concept of power sharing is something too troublesome obstacle an for women. As seen in struggles against racism, as well as sexism, those with the power advantage usually feel that to allow the discriminated groups access to equality would mean that they themselves would have to give up some of their own. This is seldom the case.

Whenever the liberation of women was welcomed as a goal, it came as a top-down decree. According to Kathleen Sheldon, author of Pounders of Grain: A History of Women, Work, and Politics in Mozambique,, these proclamations were usually stated “without benefit of a woman's movement in society” (Sheldon 117). When women's rights were acknowledged within Frelimo, they were usually done so with the belief that the rights would be granted, rather than recognized as intrinsic. The creation of OMM provides an example of the 'woman question', as interpreted by men. OMM was formed from two previous women's organizations: Liga Feminina Moçambicana (League of Mozambican Women [LIFEMO]) and the Destacamento Feminino (Women's Detachment). LIFEMO was effectively a club for the wives of Frelimo leaders, while the Women's Detachment was Frelimo's answer for mobilizing women in the fight against colonization. In 1966, with hopeful (but grandiloquent) assertion, the Frelimo Central Committee decided, “women should take a more active role in the struggle for national liberation, at all levels,” and furthermore that, “the emancipation of women is central to the liberation struggle” (Disney, Women's Activism 49). In 1972, the Central Committee decided to establish the OMM “as the arm of Frelimo in charge of mobilizing and uniting all women so that they will become involved in the revolutionary process” (Disney, Women's Activism 50). Notably, each was decided upon by Frelimo- by male Frelimo leaders. As distinguished by the former OMM Secretary-General Salomé Moiana, “...The OMM did not arise as an autonomous initiative of women. It was, rather, an expression of Frelimo's will to liberate women” (Disney, Women's Activism 51). The creation of a women's organization by men, at the most basic of levels, poses questions about the organization's “autonomy, legitimacy, and ability to represent the interests of Mozambican women,” as Jennifer Leigh Disney states in Women's Activism and Feminist Agency in Mozambique and Nicaragua.

At independence there existed a small number of legal policies enacted that represented the interests of women. For example, a law clearly born of the Marxist-Leninist theory of work, the Law of 60 Days (enacted in 1976) permitted pregnant female workers 60 days paid leave. In addition, Article 228 of the Rural Labor Code granted all women workers the right to miss two days of work a month without loosing any salary or their employment (Disney, Family Law 34). Any pro-female laws enshrined in the documents of the revolution dealt almost exclusively with the female worker, carefully circumventing any rhetoric dealing with emancipation or liberation, Mozambican women were only protected to the extent to which they were labor forces. However, in the Labor Act of 1981-1982, women workers are protected from job and wage discrimination, but only to extent to which the law is enforced (Disney, Family Law 34). As Sheldon notes, “In Mozambique women were already heavily responsible for production through their primary role in agriculture. That labor, however, was directed to the individual family and did not fulfill new ideas about the need to integrate women into the larger society” (Sheldon 116). Protection for women in the work place, however nominal the protection may have been, still places Mozambique at a standard above the United States, which never bothered to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. It is hard to say how beneficial these laws are to the average Mozambican women, as their main fields of work are based in domesticity and food production- both of which rarely are paid labor (Disney, Family Law 34).

Interestingly, the liberation of women was not included in the basic goals of Frelimo, even though the struggle for independence was rooted in the theme of liberation for all. Frelimo did not adapt gender equality as a policy, but set it aside as a separate project which still fell under it's jurisdiction, as OMM at that point lacked any real autonomy as an organization. Jennifer Leigh Disney states, “...While the Marxist-Leninist [male] leaders of Frelimo deserve credit for integrating women into the revolutionary struggle they also deserve criticism for circumscribing and limiting women's roles once they got there” (Disney, Family Law 34). For example, along with the seemingly progressive labor laws, Frelimo also included the Nationality Law, enacted on the same day as the constitution. The Nationality Law of 1975 deprived Mozambican women on citizenship in the chance that they should marry a foreign man. Of course this was not the case for Mozambican men marrying foreign women. At the 2nd National Congress of the OMM in 1976, Samora Machel argued to a crowd of Mozambican women that they (including those women who took up arms right alongside men against the Portuguese) were “weaker than Mozambican men and thus would be influenced by foreign men in a way that Mozambican men would not be by foreign women” (Disney, Family Law 35-36).

In further justification for the discriminatory law, within the Documentos da 2 Conferencia da Organização da Mulher Mocambicana Realizada em Maputo, 10 a 17 de Novembro de 1976,1977, I, II (the actual documents presented at the second OMM conference in Maputo), “...Woman is frequently the transmitting agent for wrong ideas because of her feelings of inferiority and insecurity. That is how enemy infiltration is made easier” (Disney, Family Law 36). This statement was issued in an attempt to explain the unequal and gendered nature of the Nationality Law, and proves just another example of Frelimo's inconsistent support of the liberation of women in Mozambique. Attitudes concerning the inferiority of women were not done away with at independence, but perpetuated and disguised by promises and empty rhetoric.

Frelimo may have included a marginalized place for women within the revolution, but it framed the OMM around the Marxist-Leninist Woman Question which includes women in the revolutionary cause, as a force of labor, without any real consideration or analysis of the initial position of women that would have caused them to be excluded in the first place. There existed within Frelimo no recognition of gendered work or labor roles, the gendered interconnectedness of production and reproduction, nor women's input in the overall “revolutionary vision for society” (Disney, Women's Activism 54). Thus, the women were never really considered active members within the development of Frelimo policy at it's inception. They only received credit as a means to an end, without ever being seen as independent in and of themselves (Disney, Women's Activism 55).

As Mozambique transitioned to a multiparty system, the country was presented with a new type of modernization from that which was provided by socialism. A greater dependence on global market forces opened Mozambique to new definitions of progress, as well as a reformation of the national constitution. As Disney discusses in Women's Activism, “ The fifth Conference of the OMM in 1990 addressed issues such as the new Constitution, new political parties, and new organizations such as Forum Mulher (Women's Forum), Mulher, Lei e Desenvolvimento (MULEIDE), and Associação para Promoção do Desenvolvimento Economico e Socio-cultural da Mulher (Association for the Promotion of Women's Economic and Sociocultural Development [MBEU])” (Disney, Women's Activism 53).

In 2001, 1,000 women marched to the national assembly in demand for a new conception of Mozambican family law. The bill at that time stalled and failed in parliament with numerous excuses from MP's as to why the law was not addressed. Seemingly so, at this point in the multiparty system, Mozambique was not ready to address gender equity as a policy. After two years of delay, more than 1,000 women marched again in November of 2003 demanding to be addressed by the President of the Assembly of the Republic. Finally, a new family law was passed by the parliament in December of 2003 (Disney, Family Law 43). The law demonstrated substantial progress regarding the role of women within the family, legally providing for them a equal (not submissive) role, completely outside of their role as labor production. The law promotes and improves the rights of women in three ways: (1) The man is no longer the de facto head-of-household—the head of a house may now be either a man or a woman; (2) The right to work may not be limited or restricted by any partner in a marriage—a wife no longer needs her husband's permission to work outside of the home, to enter into a contract, or to go into business for herself; (3) Children of traditional, customary, civil, and religious marriages are all protected equally under the law. Maria José Artur of the organization Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) issued a statement concerning the new Family Law:

“This was the best law that we managed to pass according to the conditions we have in Mozambique. The main rights of women and children are respected. Of course we wanted to go farther. For example, legalizing gay and lesbian marriage, or providing more for women's rights like recognizing the possibility of rape in marriage. This is currently not in the penal code” (Disney, Family Law 48-49).

Women are also becoming increasingly active in the political process as members of parliament. According to Kathleen Fallon, author of Democracy and the Rise of Women's Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa, as of 2004, the number of women in National Assembly was 87 of 250, making the percentage of women holding parliament seats 34.8% (Fallon 42). EISA estimates the percentage to be closer to 35.6%. The number can be quite hard to determine, as the member of parliament's (MP) gender is usually determined by name alone. As of October 2009, according to EISA, the number of women MP's in the National Assembly totaled 96, raising their percentage up to 38.4% (EISA). The growing number of women represented in parliament does not directly correlate with the amount of pro-woman policies in Mozambican law. The large representation of women in the National Assembly (compared to the 38 women who have serve in the US senate since our independence) is not necessarily an indicator of female development. As Fallon states, “In Africa, the countries with the best legislative representation of women use proportional representation or quotas, or a combination of both” (Fallon 99). For example, Rwanda has close to 50% representation of women in parliament, with not many pro-woman policies to show as a result.

The quotas that are in place for Mozambican parliament are done so at the party-level. The Quota Project at Quotaproject.org, which operates in conjunction with the University of Stockholm, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and IDEA, provides global databases of quotas for women as well as monitoring the extent to which quotas are voluntary or a mandate for funding. According to the Quota Project's information on Mozambique, the quota for at least 30% of female MP is a voluntary one set in place by Frelimo (The Quota Project). Those countries that have signed onto the Southern African Development Community protocol are committed to a minimum of 30% female representation in parliament, with a goal of reaching 50% soon (Fallon 124).

The 2004 UNDP Human Development Report stated that the gender-related gap in Mozambique was 0.339 (Disney, Family Law 31). Despite the perception of Frelimo's dedication to gender equality, it would appear that since the 1975 revolution, there has been a distinct gap in the quantitative representation of women in the Mozambican National Assembly and the qualitative ability of women to truly effect policy, economic, and sociocultural rights and interests of Mozambican women (Disney, Family Law 31). Although the percentage of women MP is above the mandated quota of 30%, there has been a large amount of legal inaction to reflect their presence. It would seem that the face of women MP's is one of submission to existing policy within the National Assembly, without any real history of gender mainstreaming. It is possible that pervasive patriarchal cultural attitudes attribute to the inability of female MP's to constructively create gendered policies. Specifically within the areas of domestic labor, reproductive rights and domestic violence, women's interests are not considered . Even within the National Assembly, where those holding seats have been elected to them in an equal election process, women still hold a subordinate status (Disney, Family Law 31). Elisa Muianga and Celeste Bango, formerly of Women, Law, and Development Organization (MULEIDE) both have stated that they cannot be happy with the number of women in parliament unless the quality of women in parliament is good (Disney, Family Law 40).

The growth of autonomous female NGO's within Mozambique has been quite substantial. The numbers have gone from 1 in 1992 to 25 in 1997 to more than 50 in 2004 (Disney, Family Law 49). Presently, there are still over fifty autonomous female NGO's operating withing Mozambique. Progress has defiantly been made, considering that at independence the OMM was the only women's organization that existed for over 25 years and it existed only as a dependent arm of the Frelimo party (Disney, Family Law 37). There has been an increase in the interaction between women MP's in the National Assembly and female activists in civil society, as well. According to Disney, “Often the same women move in and out of leadership roles in government and civil society. In addition, autonomous NGO's in civil society often have strong ties with the Frelimo party and Frelimo women leaders” (Disney, Family Law 49). Looking towards the future, there has been a desire expressed by Mozambican women for a women's caucus that reaches across party lines, involving women from both Frelimo and Renamo equally. For the time being, it seems a woman's caucus is out of reach due to power struggles concerning which party will reside within the main leadership role (Disney, Family Law 52). Again, it seems as if women are hindered by the complexity of power-sharing. For now, the combination of female MP's, autonomous NGO's like Forum Mulher, MULEIDE, and WLSA, along with Frelimo and the OMM, will continue the fight within Mozambique to fully emancipate women.

Hey, if Mozambique can do it, so can the United States.

Works Cited

Disney, Jennifer Leigh (2006). Mozambique: Empowering Women Through Family Law. In Gretchen Bauer and Hannah E. Britton (ed.) Women in African Parliaments (pp .31-53). Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Disney, Jennifer Leigh. Women's Activism and Feminist Agency in Mozambique and Nicaragua. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008.

EISA. 2009. 11 December 2009 .

Fallon, Kathleen M. Democracy and the Rise of Women's Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Sheldon, Kathleen E. Pounders of Grain. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2002.

Skraine, Rosemarie. Women Political Leaders in Africa. London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008.

The Quota Project. 2009. 11 December 2009