Girl leaders come together to advocate for their rights in Mozambique

8 December 2014
Author: UNFPA
Adolescent girl activists attend the UNFPA-supported National Girls’ Conference in Maputo, Mozambique. © UNFPA Mozambique

MAPUTO, Mozambique - “Adolescent girls have rights and potential,” declared 15-year-old Catia Zefanias Uamusse, at the opening of the National Girls’ Conference in Maputo, Mozambique, in mid-November. “We ought to be in charge of our own bodies and make decisions regarding our sexual and reproductive health.”

The event, supported by UNFPA and organized by the NGO Fundação para o Desenvolvimento da Comunidade, brought together girl activists from around the country to address the most pressing issues affecting them.

Hundreds of adolescent girls participated in the conference, raising their voices on issues including human trafficking, access to education, the persistence of gender-based violence, and harmful practices such as child marriage. They also discussed sexual reproductive health and rights, legislation, and their own ability to make lasting change in their communities and country.

Girls becoming mothers

An adolescent girl’s transition into womanhood can be a difficult and dangerous time in Mozambique. Child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are alarmingly common in the country.

Forty eight per cent of girls under 18 years old are married, and 41 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years old are mothers or pregnant, according to the country’s 2011 Demographic Health Survey. Nearly a quarter of all maternal deaths occur among the girls 15 to 19 years old, the survey revealed.

Catia Zefanias Uamusse sings at the opening of the National Girls' Conference in Maputo. © UNFPA Mozambique

In Catia’s class, the majority of girls are already pregnant. She has witnessed how child marriage and adolescent pregnancy can have a cascading effect on girls’ rights and welfare. Girls who are married and those who become young mothers are often forced to drop out of school. They are more likely to live in poverty, and their own children are shown to suffer worse outcomes.

Catia has been inspired to advocate for vulnerable girls in her community. She uses poetry, music and theatre to educate girls about their rights.

“No culture should come before the rights of adolescent girls in Mozambique,” she said.

Powerful testimony

The conference also offered a safe space for the girls to share, express their ideas and ask questions. These sessions enabled participants to give powerful testimonies about their own experiences.

“Five years back, I became a victim of violence within my family,” one girl said. “This is the first time I have had the courage to share it with someone. I want to encourage you all to never believe such behavior is right or acceptable, and never remain silent about it, as in my case.”

The conference also emphasized the ability of survivors, like that brave young woman, to become agents of change in their own lives and in their communities.

Fulfilling girls’ potential

“Each and one of the adolescent girls in Mozambique hold a unique potential. Providing them with opportunities to delay marriage and early pregnancy, and to instead pursue an education, will yield great returns for the country,” said Bettina Maas, UNFPA’s representative in Mozambique.

“We want them to become ‘women of tomorrow’, with the opportunity to earn an income, make decisions on matters that concern their lives, and contribute to the well-being of their families and society at large,” she added.

Through the Action for Adolescent Girls initiative, UNFA also supports training for adolescent girls to become mentors to vulnerable and marginalized girls in their communities.

The conference attendees said they take such responsibilities seriously. Many said they felt renewed commitment to work on behalf of other girls, to inspire them, promote their rights, and to help them make informed choices.

“The rich debate and exchange brought me new knowledge to take home to my community,” said Mirka da Victoria Carlos, an ambitious young woman who dreams of starting her own bakery business. “Marrying and becoming a mother at 12 years old is not right, and it will complicate the future lives of adolescent girls in Mozambique,” she added.

Population : 31.3 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 19%
Girls 19%