Criminalization of feminist activists and social movements in Mozambique

by Isabel Maria Cortesão Casimiro

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Isabel Casimiro is a feminist teacher and researcher at the Centre of African Studies at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique. She is also founder and former board president of Fórum Mulher (2006 - 2015) as well as founder and former first national coordinator of the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust (WLSA) in Mozambique. Since 2015 she functions as WLSA Mozambique board president. From 1995 - 1999 she was a Member of Parliament (Frelimo Party).

During the last five years, several cases of repression by government institutions and officials against women’s rights organizations have been reported. Women activists and feminist organizations are playing a pioneering role in the democratization process. However, in spite of gender sensitive legislation and relatively high numbers of women in power positions – more than 50% of judges, 38% of members of parliament, 28.6% of ministers – feminists and activists are often perceived as a threat by the patriarchal state.
Since the start of the school year in Mozambique in February 2016, several schools introduced school uniforms with a maxi skirt in order to “officially” fight sexual harassment. This has raised a red flag for feminist organizations that have denounced this measure, as it stigmatizes young girls. Since 2015 the persecution of feminist organizations has intensified while journalists, economists, lawyers as well as lecturers from the Eduardo Mondlane University have been injured and killed because of their support of girls’ and women’s rights.

The case of Eva Anadon Moreno

On 28 March 2016 the Mozambican authorities announced the deportation of Eva Anadon Moreno, a Spanish feminist and activist accused of participating in a demonstration deemed “illegal” and linked to the ban of miniskirts in some secondary schools. “By participating in an illegal demonstration, by leading a group of children dressed in school uniforms and by slogans against the good customs of the Republic of Mozambique, citizen Eva Anadon Moreno violated the law in a clear and open way”, explained the order of expulsion signed by the Minister of the Interior, Jaime Basilio Monteiro.


By March 2016 Eva had been living in Mozambique for four years and worked for the international secretariat of the World’s March of Women. On 18 March, she and four other feminist activists were detained by the police. Their arrest took place shortly before a street theater performance to criticize the ineffective, stigmatizing measures with regard to sexual harassment and rape in schools and also to highlight the control over women’s and girls’ bodies.
On the same day Eva Anadon Moreno was arrested, according to the Order No. 01/EA/GMI/2016, issued on the same day, and 10 days later she was deported. Furthermore, she was penalized with an entry ban for a period of 10 years. This order was never presented to the citizen concerned, which led to the intervention of a woman magistrate from the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the international airport of Mavalane, where Eva Moreno had been taken after being summoned to appear before Migration Services.
The failure to notify the person concerned about the order is not only a serious civil and human rights violation but also a breach of an essential procedural requirement, since it would have enabled Eva to exercise her right to take action before the deportation order had been executed, even if that order could not be suspended.
Why did this happen? On March 18, during the International Women’s Day activities in Mozambique, a group of civil society organizations under the coordination of Fórum Mulher Network scheduled a street intervention, which included a public reading of a press release (Fórum Mulher, 2016) referring to several examples of violations of women’s rights and girls in education, as well as a presentation of a play, performed by activists, actresses and secondary school students. The play was organized by a group of girls who wanted to talk about the problems related to sexual harassment, rape and unwanted pregnancies they face every day.
At this point, it is important to stress that the programmed intervention did not materialize because at the time it was scheduled to start, the place chosen – in the vicinity of Francisco Manyanga Secondary School – was taken over by uniformed agents and plainclothes Police officers of the Republic of Mozambique (PRM) accompanied by a military vehicle. The police confiscated the prepared posters, before they were even displayed. The statement was not even read nor was the play presented.
As a result of the police intervention, a number of activists decided to move away from the location and started dancing and singing the song “When women unite, patriarchy will fall / When the girls unite, machismo will fall / When the women unite, violence will fall / It will fall, will fall, will fall ...” This song angered the police officers, who, wielding weapons and accompanied by police dogs, approached the group of participants with the intent to prevent the action from continuing. In response to the reactions of some of the activists, who questioned the officers about their behavior while trying to photograph and film the police, five of them were arrested, handcuffed and taken to the police station. The detainees were Eva Moreno, three Mozambicans from different civil society associations and a Brazilian member of a civil society theatre group who had been invited by local organizations. Up to this point, no news was reported about the case nor had any procedural formalities been carried out. The investigation officers at the police station did not even allow the intervention of a lawyer and a prosecutor. The release of the detainees occurred only 5 hours later, after Alice Mabotas, President of the Human Rights League in Mozambique, diplomats from Brazil, Spain, France and a representative of UN Women had intervened. However, they could not stop the deportation of Eva Moreno.


A country against women and girls

Control over women’s bodies and moral policies are not new in the history of Mozambique. Shortly after its independence on 25 June, 1975, brutal measures were taken against girls by religious leaders, regardless of the impact on public health and human rights. One of these measures was, for instance, the expulsion of elementary and secondary school girls who became pregnant, as if they alone were responsible for their pregnancy.
In 2003, Order No. 39/GM/2003 referring to disciplinary measures for pregnant students was issued by the Minister of Education, which requires the transfer of the pregnant girl to the evening course, penalizing the girl doubly because she is accused of being pregnant and excluded from regular formal education. In general, the evening courses are for adults, who work during the day. It is important to emphasize here is that teachers, who are asked to execute these measures, were often perpetrators themselves as they sexually harassed the students. In some cases, the teachers were even responsible for their unwanted pregnancies. Although this is punishable by law, convictions are very rare.
Since 2015 the Movimento Educação Para Todos (Education for All Movement) has resumed negotiations with the Ministry of Education and Human Development to repeal this discriminatory decree. Unfortunately, these negotiations did not have a positive outcome. Instead, the long skirts as part of the school uniform were imposed in primary and secondary schools as a “measure to solve the problem” of sexual harassment and teenage pregnancy in schools. In that sense, Mozambique is clearly acting against women and girls and their rights. Nonetheless, generations of feminists will continue to resist and fight for their rights in solidarity with other girls and women (19 December 2016).

Further reading

UNDP (2014) Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience. United Nations Development Programme, New York.

Lamarques, Rui (2016) “Um ministério eternamente contra a rapariga” (A ministry forever against girls), facebook, 19 April 2016.

Club of Mozambique (2016) “Breaking news: Mozambique deports women’s rights activist Eva Anadon Moreno”, 30 March 2016. 

Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust Moçambique (2016) “Who’s afraid of childrens’s human rights? Police repression against street action that was pushing for an end to violence against the girl in school”, 24 March 2016, Maputo.

Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust Moçambique (2016) “Lutando pela revogação do despacho 39/2003 do Ministério da Educação”, (Fighting for the revocation of Order 39/2003 of the Ministry of Education), 2 December 2016, Maputo.

Ministério de Género, Criança e Acção Social (2016) “Perfil de género de Moçambique” (Mozambique Gender Profile), IV Esboço do Relatório, Fevereiro 2016, Maputo.

Fórum Mulher (2016) “Mulheres e raparigas dão um Basta a violação dos seus direitos nas escolas” (Women and girls say NO to the violation of rights in schools), Comunicado de Imprensa, 6 March 2016, Maputo.