Gertrudz in Mozambique provides abused women with support
Gertrudz Mutola lives in Manhiça, some 70 kilometres from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. She is a local activist in the women’s rights organization MULEIDE (an abbreviation of “Mulher, Lei e Desenvolvimento”, which means something like “Woman, law and development”), which receives support from Diakonia.
Shelter protects abused women
A newly built women’s shelter just outside Manhiça has been up and running since the start of 2014. There, Gertrudz and MULEIDE offer abused women refuge.
Gertrudz and the other women always try to mediate between the woman and the abusive man. The mediation process often involves the relatives of the woman and of the man, ensuring that many people get involved in the problem and help come up with a good solution for the woman and any children she has. If the violence continues despite mediation, MULEIDE helps report the matter to the police and provides support during the legal process.
“The violence creates a situation in which the man and his family can no longer live under the same roof. And as the man is often the one with an income, according to the law of the land, he has to make sure his children are fed and have a roof over their heads. We’ve taken several cases to court, so the men here know that legal action is not just an empty threat,” says Gertrudz.
Spreads knowledge about HIV and AIDS
Gertrudz is a well-known face in the villages around Manhiça. Everyone at the hospital also knows who she is. She often goes there with women who have been abused or people she suspects are suffering from HIV. She is familiar with legislation and the rights of those affected, and she is not afraid to take up the fight with the authorities.
“I started getting involved in these issues in 1992 and then simply continued. In the beginning I stood outdoors in places where people gathered, for example, in the market. Or I asked the leader of a village to call people together so I could talk to them about HIV and women’s rights. I gradually came into contact with MULEIDE, received training and acquired knowledge that I wanted to spread to many more people,” says Gertrudz.
Apart from work on women’s rights and against domestic violence, work to promote the health and rights of women and children forms a large part of MULEIDE’s activities. Bringing up HIV and providing information on the disease in all situations is the obvious thing to do.
According to the UN programme UNAIDS, around 15 percent of the population in Mozambique are living with HIV, and around 750,000 children are orphans due to the pandemic.
“Before, HIV was taboo. No-one wanted to talk about the disease. But when I came to a village to talk, I always said straight off, ‘I want to talk to you about HIV and AIDS, is that OK?’ And everyone answered, ‘YES!’ because they wanted to know more, as they saw that more and more people were being affected by the disease. Nowadays most people know that HIV is not about people’s sex lives – it’s about the entire community and it concerns everyone. And most people in this area know that those affected are entitled to medicines and care,” says Gertrudz.
Domestic violence common
Domestic violence is very common in Mozambique. Many people see it as natural for men to rank higher than women and have the right to hit them.
“On average, I’ve helped between 10 and 15 abused women per year since 1992. I’m happy and proud of being able to help others and will continue to do so as long as I live. I know that I save people’s lives and that makes me happy,” says Gertrudz.
Each year, via MULEIDE, she gets to attend courses and learn more about the laws in place to protect the rights of women and children.
Was abused too
Gertrudz has nine adult children, six of whom are still alive. Her commitment to women’s rights stems from her own experiences of what it means to be subjected to domestic violence.
“When my children were small, my husband hit me and tried to throw me out of the house. But I always said ‘I’m not leaving this house’, because where would I go?” she says.
In the end her husband moved in with another woman and fathered another six children with her. But then he and his new partner both died. Gertrudz went to their house and discovered that their children had been abandoned. She brought two of them home with her and made sure that the other four were housed with relatives.
“God gave me a heart with a lot of empathy,” says Gertrudz.
Today all of her children are grown up, and some have followed in their mother’s footsteps by themselves becoming activists for human rights, democracy and public health.
Most important advice: Seek help!
Gertrudz works for MULEIDE on a more or less voluntary basis. She earns a living by selling bread and sugar at the market. She and her children have been able to build a good home with the money they earn at the market.
Gertrudz has a piece of advice she would like to give to all those who hear her story:
“People who are suffering need to seek help, regardless of whether they’re being abused or are sick. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. There is help out there!”