The sexual harassment of school girls in Mozambique

In a country steeped with poverty, young girls in Mozambique are facing enormous barriers to their education. Beyond the financial struggles many schoolgirls must deal with a series of socio cultural barriers of discrimination and a culture of corruption that runs rife through the country. According to Transparency International corruption affects the police, public judiciary and public financial management in Mozambique. However, the entrance of corruption into schoolyards with teachers exchanging grades for sexual relations is particularly outrageous.

Project Monma travelled to Mozambique to learn more about girls experiences of sexual harassment.

An American Teacher who prefers not to be named worked for two years in a Secondary School in rural Mozambique. She first became aware of sexual harassment in her school after a teacher came to her house to harass a student she was living with.

She reported in an interview that many male teachers were changing the student’s grades. She began to learn that student’s grades had nothing to do with merit, but was instead about who their family members were, if the child’s family had paid the teachers or if the girls were girlfriends of the teachers. Intelligent students were failing and children who were not good students and were passing with flying colours.

Teachers became angry with her when she wouldn’t let them change students grades and dismantle their sex system.

She saw students as young as 13 being harassed by teachers. The teachers were around 30 or 40 years old.

The teachers would blame the students were provoking them for their clothes and would directly call girls sluts. The male teachers would work together and if one female student wouldn’t sleep with a teacher the other male teachers would gang up on her and all give her bad grades.

We were also able to speak with a number of school girls. Rita a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Barra beach who was attending Escola Secondaria Conguiana confirms teachers are asking children for sex.

‘They give the girls their phone number and ask them to call them. They don’t want to get married, they just want to have sex with the girls and leave them,’ she says.

If students say no they’ll be in trouble with their marks, if they accept then they’ll get better marks. She reports that it happens a lot.

Unicef has reported that the prevalence of violence, sexual abuse and harassment in schools has been identified by parents as a factor influencing their decision not to send their girls to school.

Shaista de Araujo, a women’s rights activist based in Maputo reports that the biggest problem is that Mozambique is a patriarchal society and girls are expected to be submissive. They are less valued which inevitably leads to abuse.

Girls in Mozambique face entrenched gender discrimination, harmful practices such as child marriage and widespread gender based violence. According to a 2015 survey by the health ministry 46% of girls aged 15 – 19 have been pregnant at least once.

According to the UN about fifty percent of women in Mozambique experience some form of violence at some point in their lives. Unicef found that 34% of women had been beaten most often by a husband or someone they knew. Women in rural areas were reporting more violence than women in urban areas.

The problem of sexual abuse in schools is further exacerbated by teachers refusing to take responsibility for their own actions and are instead blaming the students. Their excuse for their inappropriate behavior is the way the students are dressed. Araujo reported that recently the Ministry of Education changed the uniform so that girls had to wear long skirts. The Mozambican Young Feminist Movement, Movfemmme and others responded with protests in response to the new rule which resulted in some of her colleagues being put in jail. ‘We said that they should be focusing on the real problem which is the teachers who are not protecting the girls rights, not what the girls are wearing,’ she said.

Araujo says that things can get better,’ says Araujo. ‘We need to find ways to get women to wake up and realize their rights.’