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'I felt empowered and understood'

11 October 2016
© UNFPA Mozambique
NAMPULA, Mozambique – “Before I entered the safe space, I was shy, and it was difficult for me to express myself. I spent my free time after school with vulnerable girlfriends my age who had left school to marry, and some were even pregnant,” said Abadala Salimo, 16. “I felt afraid to become one of them.” 
 
Last year, she joined UNFPA’s Action for Adolescent Girls initiative. At a safe space, she and other girls receive lessons in literacy, money management, leadership and human rights – including the right to live free from violence and child marriage. The girls also learned about sexual and reproductive health, and how their bodies and lives could be affected by early pregnancy
 
“In the safe space, I felt empowered and understood, and I learned to express myself. Suddenly, new doors opened,” Amelia said. 
 
Today, she will be playing a key role in guiding other girls through these lessons as part of the first joint UN programme to empower girls in Mozambique. 
 
“Now,” she said, “I will be a mentor myself.”

Turning girls into leaders

Girls in Mozambique face a wide range of challenges, including entrenched gender discrimination and high rates of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy. According to a 2015 survey by the health ministry, 46 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 have been pregnant at least once. Child marriage and early pregnancy multiply the risks to girls’ health, increasing the likelihood that they will experience pregnancy complications such as obstetric fistula, or even die from pregnancy-related causes.
 
Pregnancy can also force girls to drop out of school, limiting their future potential. In Mozambique, girls’ primary school enrolment stands at 85 per cent, but by secondary school their enrolment drops to 18 per cent, according to the 2015 State of World Population report .
 
The joint UN programme 'Action for Girls and Young Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights' aims to address these problems at multiple levels.
 
Funded with $14 million from the Government of Sweden, this four-year programme will build on UNFPA’s Action for Adolescent Girls initiative, bringing in support from UNICEF, UN Women, UNESCO, civil society and youth organizations, religious leaders’ networks, and the media.
In Mozambique, girls' enrolment in secondary school is a low 18 per cent, compared to 85 per cent in primary school. © UNFPA Mozambique
Led by UNFPA and the Government of Mozambique, it will include mentorship in girls’ safe spaces, involvement from community health workers, and community dialogues with parents, men and boys, all designed to help whole communities collectively embrace the importance of girls’ education and rights.  
 
I want to be a part of the change in my community – and also to break the silence on the harms happening to adolescent girls next door. - Nilza Armando, 19
The programme was launched on 15 August in Nampula City, and was attended by 830 girl mentors, who were carefully selected and trained to guide other girls in lessons on numeracy, literacy, life skills and human rights. The mentors all live in the communities they serve, making them more effective role models and counsellors.
 
“I want to be a part of the change in my community – and also to break the silence on the harms happening to adolescent girls next door,” said Nilza Armando, a 19-year-old mentor, at the launch event.

Reaching 1 million girls

 

The programme will be rolled out in Zambezia and Nampula provinces, which have some of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, according to the 2015 government survey.

 
Each mentor will reach 30 girls a year through the safe spaces, and more mentors will be trained to reach girls through radio and television. The campaign will be rapidly expanded in these two high-risk provinces, with the target of reaching 1 million girls.
The programme is a significant milestone towards the empowerment of Mozambique’s most vulnerable adolescent girls. - Bettina Maas, UNFPA Mozambique Representative
 
Forums will also be created at the local, provincial and national level, enabling girls to advocate on issues affecting them. 
 
“The programme is a significant milestone towards more collective efforts towards the empowerment of Mozambique’s most vulnerable adolescent girls,” said Bettina Maas, UNFPA’s Representative in the country. 
 
“I want to demonstrate to the most vulnerable adolescent girls in my community that a different path exists,” said Idris Jamal, a 13-year-old member of Mozambique’s Children’s Parliament. She will be a mentor to younger girls, spreading her message of girls’ empowerment on the radio.
 
“Adolescent girls can be in school, pursue dreams, engage in sports, dance or play an instrument instead of marrying when still a child or becoming young mothers,” she said.
 
By Alvo Ofumane