Mozambique: small portraits of big women; Paola Rolletta on the women of Mozambique who, like most African women, are the backbone of society and yet work against the odds.

Author:Rolletta, Paola

It is difficult not to fall into veteran feminist cliches when writing about women, especially Mozambican women. Women represent 52% of this country, they are its backbone, and yet its most fragile and poorest sector, even though the prime minister is a woman. (Luisa Diogo, who was recently considered as one of the most influential world personalities by Time Magazine).


In Mozambique there are women who have been "parachuted" into the country and public acclaim, there are those who were born here, and there are those who cannot help but be here despite a sea of difficulties. They are not mother courage, they are simply women who live life as an ongoing challenge and in short, are the country's real transformation and development agents.

Women who dream, who fight for the absolute eradication of poverty affecting 70% of the population. They are the mainstay of agriculture/production, an industry which still remains largely subsistence, with 75% of the population living in rural areas, yet the means of production and distribution are not under their control. Microcredit is given to women but it has only been introduced recently and is still quite incipient.

In the urban centres, particularly among female vendors, an informal financial support system is used: xitique. They are mobile bankers, who typically have between five and ten clients who agree to pay a fixed sum every day (minimum 10,000 MZM). These deposits are made over a month at the end of which, the whole amount is withdrawn, with a small commission for the banker. Xitique, as a form of compulsory savings, allows people to pay for their everyday needs and prevents the husbands from accessing a portion of the daily income.

When you ask a woman from the rural areas what she does, she usually says "nothing". "I wake up, prepare the matabicho (breakfast) for my husband and children, wash the clothes, and then I crush the maize used to make xima (maize meal), after which I go to work in the machamba (plots). After that I go and fetch water (the walk tends to be a long one). I come back home and prepare supper, wash the dishes and do some sewing, etc."

The proportion of women employed in the informal sector has grown significantly over the last few decades, particularly among unpaid workers and low level activities. "Informal? What a beautiful definition when there are children to feed?", retorts Maria Adelaide, a woman from Nampula, in northern Mozambique.

There is...

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