By: Kimya Banks Chief of Economic Development
As former colonial powers, such as Great Britain and France, were granting their colonies independence, Portugal was striving to maintain its colonial authority over its three “overseas provinces:” Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique.
Guinea-Bissau gained its independence on September 10, 1974, after 11 1/2 years of armed conflict. Angola gained its independence on 11 November 1975, after 14 years of armed conflict.
Mozambique succeeded in achieving independence on June 25, 1975, after a civil resistance movement known as the Carnation Revolution, which was backed by portions of the Portuguese military, overthrew their military dictatorship, thus ending 470 years of Portuguese colonial rule in the East African region.
The Mozambique War of Independence was a conflict between the Salazar-Caetano dictatorship and the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO). FRELIMO waged a guerilla “People’s War” to destabilize the colonial government and unite all Mozambicans to the cause of independence. To stamp out the rebellion, the Salazar-Caetano regime pursued a brutal counter-guerrilla campaign, utilizing the Portuguese Armed Forces.
While women were among the most vulnerable victims of the war, they were also its unintended beneficiaries. With war comes a weakening of the state and the traditional family, which affords women unprecedented opportunities to break free from patriarchal control. During times of war, when women’s subjugation and marginalization are exacerbated by heightened levels of physical and sexual violence, it is because the men are either off to war, maimed or dead, that the women are empowered to break free from patriarchal constraints. Some women seized the opportunities afforded them by war and prospered, especially as informal entrepreneurs. A few rose to the occasion and became engaged in civil society activism, such as setting up victim support networks and participating in peace-building.
Gender inequality and violence against women were not uncommon features of pre-colonial Mozambique. Women were a subordinate ‘second sex.’ Rooted in political economy, the subjugation of women was reinforced by the sex division of labor at the economic level and by the ideology of patriarchy at the political level. Colonialism introduced women to new Western forms of sexism, which were often more oppressive to women than what previously existed. In the more urban areas, where strangers were now neighbors, colonialism eroded the support mechanisms of the pre-colonial society: the traditional extended family, kinship ties, ‘economy of affection,’ and thereby exposed women to greater vulnerabilities and insecurities.
During the war for independence, women participated in the rebel army, however, the exact number and their experiences are relatively under-researched and unknown. In general, women in the rebel army were captives who contributed as wives and concubines to commanders, and also as cooks and porters of weaponry. Some women embraced violence and participated in a ‘compulsive masculinity’ in response to the violence they experienced. They adopted negative attitudes against local men.
The war also allowed women to experience sexual liberty and engage in sex work. Women decided to overturn some of the expected traditional female behaviors and dress codes. Some adopted Westernized passing fads in clothing, which were driven by an influx of Western sexual images in the media, sometimes containing pornographic material. This was accompanied by an increase in sexual freedom, permissiveness, and transactional sex. Sex work had existed previously, however, war-time poverty and hardship, coupled with the arrival of foreign troops who were generally wealthier than most Mozambicans, led to a dramatic increase in sex work.
The war created conditions that engendered the subversion of traditionally gendered identities and gave rise to their replacement with new liberal ones. A new political discourse arose and the political space expanded, allowing women to be more active and assertive in challenging the status quo and in acquiring new values, roles, skills, and identities.
The revolution inspired women to fight for their emancipation. In the opening speech of the First Conference of Mozambican Women, 4 March 1973, a salient point was made that can be applied to all revolutionary movements everywhere that value women and their contributions:
The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and the precondition for its victory. The main objective of the revolution is to destroy the system of exploitation and build a new society which releases the potentialities of human beings, reconciling them with labor and with nature. This is the context within which the question of women’s emancipation arises.
Generally speaking, women are the most oppressed, humiliated and exploited beings in society. A woman is even exploited by a man who is himself exploited, beaten by the man who is lacerated by the plantation, she is humiliated by the man who is also crushed under the boot of the boss and the settler.
How can the revolution triumph without the liberation of women? Will it be possible to get rid of the system of exploitation while keeping one part of society exploited? One can’t only partially wipe out exploitation and oppression, one can’t tear up only half the weeds without even stronger ones spreading from out from the half that has survived.
How then can one make a revolution without mobilizing women? If more than half the exploited and oppressed people consist of women, how can they be left on the fringe of the struggle? To make a revolution it is necessary to mobilize all the exploited and oppressed, and consequently women as well. If it is to be victorious, the revolution must eliminate the whole system of exploitation and oppression, liberating all the exploited and oppressed. Therefore it must eliminate the exploitation and oppression of women, it is forced to liberate women.