'Women can accomplish great things!': A success story
It used to be that villagers would chase after Cecilia João, shouting, when she went about on her motorcycle.
Now they not only accept that a woman can handle a motorcycle, but that women can handle all sorts of positions of authority in many rural communities in the Tambara District, Manica Province, Mozambique.
Cecilia started working with Oxfam Canada partner Magariro, the Community Development Association, in 2002. She was the only woman on Magariro’s Tambara district field team when Oxfam Canada’s Sustainable Livelihoods and Agriculture Program was set up in 2005 to improve rural life in several poor districts of central Mozambique
She says she has grown a lot since then. And so have the communities where she works.
“Several opportunities for training and reflection that resulted from the partnership of Magariro and Oxfam Canada have led to my understanding of the dynamics about inequalities between men and women,” Cecilia says. She learned concrete strategies to help women assert themselves and gain acceptance as community leaders. “The program has changed many things in people's lives as well. At first, I was the only woman working as a field extension worker in the district, and there were only two female employees at the administrative post in the district office."
“When riding a motorcycle, men and women in the communities shouted and pursued me, not believing that a woman can handle a motorcycle. When we organized community meetings, people arrived with bags in hand, hoping that they would receive food or other goods. It was a huge job to deconstruct this dependence, reassuring people, particularly women, to try and believe they can accomplish great things!”
Women now hold leadership roles in the community as never before. Among them are a school director, positions of authority at the town and village level, and head administrator in Buzua district. In the farmer’s association, there are women leaders and members of advisory boards in district forums. There are women managers of savings and credit groups.
“This was unthinkable in 2005,” Cecilia says. “In the case of the savings and credit group in Nhacafula, a woman is the leader, while a traditional chief is just a member. Before, no one would accept that a woman could be in a higher position of leadership than a local chief.
"These changes represent a big win for everyone,” she says. “We demonstrate the importance of change by making changes ourselves. Actions and role models are stronger than words!”