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MOZAMBIQUE: Educator in the Foothills of Her Political Career

Charles Maraia

NAMPULA PROVINCE, Mozambique, Mar 21 2011 (IPS) - If women like Judith Mussacula realise their aspirations to become the next generation of Mozambican politicians, the country’s future will be in safe hands.

Judith Mussacula (centre) with pupils from her school. Credit:  Courtesy Judith Mussacula

Judith Mussacula (centre) with pupils from her school. Credit: Courtesy Judith Mussacula

Give a book to a woman and you will educate an entire nation. This aphorism might have inspired women like Mussacula to choose the teaching career, in a country facing as many education challenges like Mozambique.

“My main objective as a teacher is to guarantee that more women have the opportunity to be in decision-making positions. I wish we had more female principals in our schools,” she says.

Thirty-two-year-old Judith Emilia Leite Mussacula is the principal of the Nampula Secondary School in the northern Mozambican province of the same name.

She is also the adviser for education issues for the ruling party’s Youth League in Nampula, part of a nationwide structure of consultation for the ruling Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO, the National Liberation Front of Mozambique).

As a principal, Mussacula is at the heart of efforts to ensure a secure future for the country.

Educating girls

Women account for half of the province’s four-million-strong population.

Numbers from the ministry show that just over 60 percent of Nampula students are able to finish primary school and move on to secondary school; from those, less than 15 percent complete their secondary education.

The long distances many students in rural provinces like Nampula must travel to school, a lack of infrastructure, the cost of education and insufficient numbers of teachers are the factors blamed for the high dropout rate.

Cultural practices also play a role, and according to the Mozambican government, girls account for most of the students who drop out of secondary school in the centre and north of the country.

However, the situation has improved significantly in the last decade, thanks to the Mozambican government’s National Plan to Empower Women, which has as one of its objectives ensuring that girls stay in school as long as possible.

In order to achieve that objective, the Ministry of Education has paid special attention on recruiting more teachers, especially female teachers like Mussacula, who recognises that there is still a lot to be done.

“We need more female teachers to show that it is possible for a woman to be educated. Girls need references. We have to show them how to be ambitious… and how to like themselves,” she says.

Supportive environment

The present school year was launched on Jan. 14 by the Minister of Education, Zeferino Martins, under the theme “Improving the quality of education is a mission for each one of us”.

In a speech, Martins emphasised the role of teachers in promoting access to a better education. He also promised to work on achieving the government’s goals on ensuring that each year, more children are in school.

“We will recruit more graduate teachers this year,” the minister said. “Quality of education means that every child who enters primary school should have the right and conditions to stay there, as long as possible.”

In addition to her teaching role, Mussacula is also an active member of the ruling party, FRELIMO.

“Frelimo fought for the liberation of Mozambique from Portuguese colonialism. Now we are fighting for the development of our country,” she says.

Women in politics

Mussucula wants to achieve more in politics and eventually reach parliament, where she says female MPs have an important role to play in ensuring the rights of Mozambican women and well being of children.

“Women MPs have had a very important role in Mozambican parliament. The approval of the Family Law and the law against domestic violence are good examples.”

In December 2003, the Mozambican parliament passed a Family Law which was considered a major victory for women’s rights in Mozambique. The law for the first time recognises customary marriages, permitting the many women married under customary practices to claim property or custody rights. Under the new law, women who have lived with their partners for more than a year are entitled to inherit their joint property.

The law was passed after several years of concerted action by groups of Mozambican women’s rights, prominent female figures and politicians united to campaign to reform family laws, which they considered a major impediment to gender equality.

In 2009, Mozambican female MPs again had reasons to celebrate when parliament approved a law on domestic violence, increasing the penalties for such violence.

“In the past we were forced to accept any kind abuse from our men because we did not have a law to protect ourselves. Now, with this law, if a woman allows her husband or any other man to hit her, force her to have sex, stop her from going to school or work… it’s a matter of choice,” said Anita Jonas, an accountant working in Maputo.

For Mussacula, such laws are helping to fight some of the cultural beliefs that make women submissive to men. She says the law against violence, for example, is an important instrument to penalise men who do not allow their daughters or wives to go to school.

“We can’t talk about better health conditions or fight against maternal and child mortality if we don’t have trained nurses and midwives; we can’t have nurses and midwives if we don’t educate our women,” Mussacula told IPS.

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