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MANICA, Mozambique“As mentors, we have been empowered to support young girls and women [who have survived] sexual and gender-based violence. Our interpersonal communication, listening and empathy skills will be indispensable in providing survivor-centered support,” said Evelina, a newly trained mentor from Chimoio city in Manica Province, Mozambique.

Evelina and her friend Roda are among the 30 young people who participated in a recent mentorship training supported by the Spotlight Initiative in Mozambique. As part of the training, several community leaders and government officials offered words of encouragement: “Denounce all perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence," said Otilia Samuel Filipe, Head of the Provincial Department of Family and Child Care for Victims of Violence in Manica province. "As the police, we will do our part. We will identify them, notify them, and hand them over for trial in court.”

As the police, we will do our part. We will identify [perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence], notify them, and hand them over for trial in court.

The Spotlight Initiative, implemented in Mozambique by UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, government and civil society organizations, aims to end all forms of violence against women and girls. The Initiative is led by the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Action, and focuses on ending sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), eliminating child marriage, and promoting women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

According to the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey, more than one in three women in Mozambique (37 per cent) have experienced physical or sexual violence. Referring to these statistics, the Head of the Gender Department of the Provincial Directorate of Social Services in Manica Province, Tomas Junior, said that sexual and gender-based violence in Mozambique had reached alarming levels.

Social activists in Palma district, Cabo Delgado, protest against the increase in cases of gender-based violence in the district, due to economic challenges, ongoing displacement caused by the current conflict, and the COVID-19 pandemic. © UNFPA Mozambique

"It is a national imperative that requires collaborative and coordinated efforts from all stakeholders, namely the government, civil society organizations, religious and community leaders, international non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and other donors,” he said.

The group of young people aged between 17 and 24 took part in a four-day training course conducted by the Foundation for Community Development (FDC) and the Mozambican Youth Association, Coalizão, with support from UNFPA. Understanding the power of youth to educate peers, identify cases of violence and use creative media and technology to raise awareness on the issue, the training focused on equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to become mentors in their communities. 

The training was organized as part of the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence campaign. Several topics were covered, including mentors' roles and responsibilities, the desired attributes of a mentor, GBV with a focus on sexual gender-based violence, child marriage, human rights, access to sexual and reproductive health services, and multi-sectoral GBV services. 

“The training equipped me with valuable information, knowledge and skills," said Evelina. "I will hit the ground running. I have three outcomes to reach: being introduced to community leadership, finding a potentially safe space, and identifying my mentees."

The recently approved law on the prevention and elimination of child marriage by the Government of Mozambique is a huge milestone for community leaders.

Health professionals encouraged the youth to reach out to the GBV focal points who work in the health centres throughout the province. The young people were reminded that by coordinating and collaborating with health professionals, they can respond to urgent cases quickly and efficiently. Community leaders were also invited to participate in the training and reiterated their commitment to reducing sexual and gender-based violence in Manica province.

“The recently approved law on the prevention and elimination of child marriage by the Government of Mozambique is a huge milestone for community leaders. I am disseminating the law in my community and bringing more awareness to the consequences of early and forced child marriages,” said Goncavels Bernado, community leader of Vila Nova, in Chimoio.

This network of young mentors, supported by their community leaders and the Government, will conduct weekly mentorship sessions for youth within their communities and make referrals to health, education and justice services. The mentors will act as role models and change agents to prevent and respond to cases of child marriage and GBV.

The trust created between the mentors and mentees is expected to influence a positive transformation in attitudes and behaviours.

“It was a great opportunity for the mentors to bring light to their dreams,” said Antonio Jorge from Coalizão. 

With continued support from the European Union and the United Nations, civil society partners, FDC and Coalizão will continue to support the government and communities' efforts to work with young people in Manica, Nampula, and Gaza provinces to ensure that cases of GBV and child marriage decrease, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.