Lindsay Northover: Seeing a way through for girls and women in Mozambique

Baroness Northover
Baroness Northover

Many girls’ and women’s faces in Mozambique will stay with me. But 3 of those faces had a particularly strong impact – those of Isalinha, Ana, and especially a young mother in Manica province, whose name I may never know.

Let us take that young woman first. She sat on the ground, surrounded by other young women and their children in a village, as women community leaders acted out short plays on good nutrition and family planning for us. She did not engage. She barely watched, gazing somewhere into the distance, no smile on her face. She looked perhaps 20, perhaps younger. Attached to her were twins, feeding constantly, each baby detaching himself and crying, as her milk clearly ran out, then reattaching in hope. One twin was dominant, and he would swipe from time to time at his sibling, trying to knock him off the other breast. The mother, stick thin, barely seemed to notice that either. All her waking and sleeping hours she would no doubt be feeding these twins. She may well have had other young children, as many were playing near her. She may well already be pregnant again, as most seemed to be. Weariness emanated from every pore of her body. She knew there was no easy end to this.

The men behind her giggled as we heard about how young girls were married off young, but when their babies arrived, their husbands then moved off to take other wives as the first wife was then too “busy” looking after small children, the household, as well as the fields.

Family planning is taken up by only 12.5% in Mozambique, and 43% of children under 5 are malnourished.

That was the reality for that young woman’s life, and it is not surprising that it was too much effort to raise her eyes to us, or anyone. It was especially to her, as well as those around her, that I said that life will change, as I am certain it will. And which is why we engage as we do. But she seemed not to hear, or register.

But as a human indicator of change, let me now turn to Isalinha. In the Radio Mozambique studio in Tete City, I was grilled by fifteen-year-old Isalinha Alfredo. She is a youth journalist, helping to present a UNICEF-supported award-winning radio programme with other young people. They tackle the issue of child, early and forced marriage head on, as well as other challenges facing adolescent girls in Mozambique, including through a popular soap opera. Isalinha wanted to know if child marriage was a problem in the UK and if so, what we did about it.

The full blog post is here

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