Flora in Mozambique provides legal assistance to women
Flora Saturnino has managed to turn her life around. From having been destitute and an outcast, she is now the person in the village that everyone turns to for advice and legal support.
Education a given
Flora Saturnino in Mozambique comes from a family where everyone got an education. This was a given. But when she got married, all that changed:
“My husband didn’t want me to continue my education at all. He frequently beat me and when he started attacking our two girls and forbade them to go to school too – well, that’s when I left,” she says, briefly and to the point.
People queuing to get help
Flora lives in the small town of Marracuene, around thirty kilometres from the capital, Maputo. When I meet her she is working at the organization AMMCJ’s local office, giving people legal advice and support. The reception is sparse and quite dark. There are two chairs and a desk, plus a few books – that’s it. Outside, people are waiting in a queue. They are next to the wall where there is a little shade, all of them sitting in plastic chairs that have seen better days. Everyone seems to have come to terms with the fact that they may be waiting a long time today.
Left her husband
“When I left my husband, I only had the clothes I had on my back and a daughter on each arm. This was a long time ago, but I’m still struggling to build myself a proper home again.”
After she left her husband, he spread rumours about her – that she dabbled in magic and was a witch. Flora was ostracised and incredibly alone.
“Finally my husband even managed to convince my girls that I was a bad person. They moved back in with him. I wasn’t allowed to see them for four years,” she says, with a pained expression.
Paid for her daughter to go to school
Not seeing her children was painful, and the pain was not lessened by the knowledge that they were being kept at home and not allowed to study.
“Finally one of the girls tired of her life as a household slave. She demanded to go back to school. But her father naturally refused. So I paid for her to go to school. I who had nothing,” says Flora.
Helps other vulnerable women as a ‘paralegal’
In 2005 Flora took part in one of AMMCJ’s (a network of women legal advisers) programmes to become a ‘paralegal’, a kind of legal assistant for the people or a ‘barefoot lawyer’ as some people call it. Since that time she has continued to attend courses and learn more about the laws of the land and people’s rights. She feels most committed to the situation of women.
“I work almost completely voluntarily with this, and new women in need of help come to us all the time,” she says.
Domestic violence common
Domestic violence is the rule rather than the exception in Mozambique, in Flora’s view. Her claims are supported by the legal advisers at AMMCJ’s headquarters in Maputo:
“It’s true. Behind more or less every door in this country, there’s violence. In all social classes. And the tragic thing is that many women still live in the belief that it is the right of men to beat them and decide how they live their lives,” says lawyer Bela Lithuri at AMMCJ.
Knowledge changes everything
Flora’s stubbornness and faith in education providing a better life is unmistakable. She shares her knowledge with everyone. Because if you know your rights, sooner or later you can rise from oppression, according to Flora. But she is most proud of her children:
“Today, one of my daughters has a postgraduate degree. And I’m a very proud mother. I’ve also become a grandmother,” says Flora. And there is joy and faith in the future behind every syllable she utters.