This post narrates glimpses of development work of VSO Mozambique. However, this is written in individual capacity and VSO Mozambique does not necessarily endorse the viewpoint. Names of individuals and places are either not mentioned or changed. If you want to know more about VSO, click here or here .
Understanding a new environment is mostly challenging – even in the era of Information and Technology. As an outsider one has limited access to people’s lives and their perceptions about life. In addition to that as an outsider I am exempted from the general norms and rules of the society; which has a tremendous potential to create superficial interpretation of what I come across. So, cautiously I try to evolve general understanding not only based on my experiences (as I know my limitations) but also based on the experience of others – which they share.
Understanding a society poses another problem; especially when I try to understand through urban societies. With the increased influence of Market Economy and to certain extent its impact on traditional livelihoods; societies are no more homogeneous today. There are multiple streams within any urban society. So I keep on checking and crosschecking notions, practices, ideas, norms, rules and also exceptions – as change is constantly happening.
Due to my active participation in the VSO project (titled The Business of Girls’ Education), I get opportunity to interact with girls (and boys) in primary schools; teachers in primary schools; community members who are involved in School Management through School Councils and officers of Provincial Education Department. We have many discussions on barriers faced by girls in continuing education (and how to overcome those collectively) and that gives me ideas. These interactions throw light on Gender Roles, Gender Based Division of Labor, Access to and Control over Resources, Decision Making in the society. Triangulation is done by habit (not systematically, I must confess) and it fits into what I knew about this society even before I came to Mozambique.
We are in another school; meeting the 6 Lead Girls is an important agenda of the visit. We find that Marta is missing from the group and there are still 6 girls. Since Marta did not appear in the school this year, the school has substituted her with another girl –Cecilia. I do not want to discourage Cecilia, but I want to know where Marta is.
“Did Marta attend the classes regularly last year?” I ask the teacher; an enthusiastic and experienced teacher who is with us in the school.
“Yes,” replies the teacher.
“Why is Marta not coming to school?” I ask. Everybody chooses to remain silent.
“Is she transferred to other school?”
Silence. Not deliberate, but nobody knows.
“Is she not well?”
Looking at Cecilia’s face, I dare to ask, “Is she married?”
“Yes,” responds Cecilia
One more 13-14 year girl is married again. In 2015? Yes!
“Is she still in this village?” I continue asking. “Do you know her home?”
Cecilia knows Marta’s house. So accompanied by two girls and the teacher, we walk for twenty minutes.
We come across a cluster of huts and everybody stops. It takes some time for me to realize that the cluster of huts belongs to one family and unless the Head of the Family (invariably a Man) permits us to enter, we cannot move further.
The father arrives. He might be 40 or even 50, it is hard to tell. The teacher speaks in the local language and explains the purpose of the visit. This is not an occasion for taking photographs. I am using neither camera, notebook nor pen.
“Oh! Marta is married. I have no problem if she continues going to school; but her husband should give her permission,” he explains frankly.
Marta’s husband is studying in the nearby district and Marta continues to stay with her parents. How old is he? May be 20.
“I did not want my daughter to marry, but she married what I can do?” says the father.
“Can we talk to Marta, please?” I ask.
Father goes to a hut in the backside to call Marta, but she refuses to come out. So, with the permission of the father, I go to that hut. But Marta refuses to come out. One of her aunts is there. With her permission, I enter inside. Marta does not know me, we have never met. She pulls her face down, covers it by both the palms and clearly speaks, “I do not like school, and I do not want to go to school.” I am surprised by her clarity of thought. At that moment I do not want to invade her privacy, I do not want to threaten her by my presence. I come out of the hut and tell the aunt, “When Marta wants to meet us, we will come again, let us know.”
On the way back the team discusses. “These girls! They want to marry. Even when her father did not want, she married. What can we do?”
I ask about the lobolo (the bride price) the father would have received. It is about 3000 MT (approximately USD 90). In addition to this the groom clears surrounding land and builds a new hut for the girl’s father (or family).
We could not stop marriage of this girl. However, we can at least bring her back to school. But why did Marta hate the school so much? How many more girls would be preferring marriage, feeling that school is not a place for them? And what exactly happened in the school? Are girls punished? Do they have to do more work in school too? Is it a language issue? (Not Portuguese but local language is spoken in the village.)
We need to think. We need to strategize. We need to connect not only with the girls and teachers, but also with the community. Yes, through school councils, we have established initial contacts with the community, we need to strengthen those.
To talk to girls regarding consequences of early marriage is necessary but not sufficient. Adults have lot of power over their children, so it is important to work with adults.
And we need to work with boys as well.
Are our efforts good enough to open better life opportunities for girls like Marta?
to be continued...