Laura gained self-confidence and independence
At the age of 14 Laura Manvença Saene was harassed by her older teacher. She had to live with the aggressor, who was violent and beat her. She felt she had no future. But today Laura is a strong young woman, studying to become a police officer and devoted to help others.
Harassed by her teacher
Laura Manvença Saene was harassed by her teacher in secondary school. To escape punishment he said he would marry her. He never did, but they lived together for several years and she gave birth to two children. The man was violent. He beat her and did not provide for the children. He even refused Laura to eat and sleep inside the house. In public, he accused her of being insane. Of course, Laura’s self-confidence was destroyed.
Knowing one's rights makes life different
"If I only knew then what I know today, that there is something called the Law, that protects me, and a Constitution that guarantees the rights of all citizens, my life could have been different", Laura says.
Laura contacted various state institutions but she did not get any help. Nobody wanted to listen to her, as the teacher had told people that she was “a mad woman, that she was crazy”. The situation was desperate.
Support from the Diakonia partner organization MULEIDE
Then a neighbor, a lady who had witnessed when the husband beat Laura, advised her to look for help at Diakonia’s partner organization MULEIDE. The organization offers legal support and counselling for victims of violence and works with lobby and advocacy advancing the rights of women and children.
When Laura arrived at MULEIDE, she was distraught, traumatized and debilitated after having spent days without food and sleeping in the open air. But finally, there was someone who believed her and did not consider her insane.
Broad support helped Laura gain independence and self-esteem
With free support from MULEIDE Laura received both legal assistance and psychological counseling, and also support for getting started with some income generating activities.
After Laura had won the first month of alimony, she 10 days later returned to complain that the value was small. MULEIDE then realized that Laura was not prepared to manage money, and needed more support to be able to walk alone in life.
Learning this, MULEIDE decided that legal advice had to go together with mandatory awareness for financial management and psycho-social support, for all women receiving legal advice from the organization. In this programme MULEIDE is focusing on how to plan and manage alimony, how to make savings and how to identify suitable income generating activities and look for some kind of professionalization.
Laura started selling vegetables, dried fish, cold water and fruit in season. This activity was crucial to help Laura to restore her self-esteem because she began to have some autonomy over her life, and consequently, to believe more in her own capacity to be in charge over her own life. She began to smile again, and so did her two children. Laura began to talk less about her former aggressor and started to think more of moving forward in her life.
Went back to school
While Laura was already generating income, she went back to school with the support of MULEIDE to finalize her basic education.
"Life can indeed be different. MULEIDE has indicated to me that I have rights, that we all have rights, and deserved to be treated with respect and that I have a value as a woman and mother", she says.
Dedicated to support other victims of violence
Today Laura is 23 years old and attending the Police Academy of the Republic of Mozambique in Maputo, by her own choice, receiving higher education in a professional school to become a police officer.
"As soon as I graduate from the Police Academy I want to dedicate my life to support victims of violence, especially young girls. That is my commitment and I assure you with all my heart that I will do it", she says.
Laura has a promising future. Her self-confidence is restored, and she is committed not only to care for herself and her two children, but also to help others.
Visits schools to support other young women
She also visits schools and to talk about her past. To sensitise parents not to marry their daughters to teachers, or anybody else, who have abused them sexually.
"That is not the best way to initiate a new life as a couple. Look at my example!” argues Laura.
The Penal Code will be changed
The current Mozambican Penal Code, dating from the XIX century, still under the colonial time, had an article saying that in case the man who had abused the woman was willing to marry her and stay married for five years, he would not suffer any penalty. The new code, currently under revision, was to keep that article.
However, civil society organisations, including MULEIDE, advancing the cause of women’s rights, have lobbied against it vehemently. They marched to parliament in March 2014 to handle over a petition to the Commission in charge of the issue, and after that the article was finally removed from the new proposal.