One area of change of which narrators speak very positively is the advances in status and roles of women. Amélia, a farmer now surviving by producing charcoal, describes how life has improved: “…the status of women is now higher, and we are emancipated. We are leaders. Because… we were not valued – but today, women have an acceptable status, and the country has grown because of women.”
This increased recognition of women’s importance is welcomed in several testimonies. Antonio is secretary of his local organização de camponeses, and is involved in many community activities. “The time has come for women to give their opinions,” he states. “We are trying to find ways to put women in the lead, in order for our lives to improve, because women can… have good ideas.” Such increased visibility and responsibility has changed attitudes, he says. “Women here in Marracuene are respected because they can be found everywhere; even in leading positions.”
At the same time, he recognises that the burden of work can make community participation difficult: “We are trying to give everyone equal rights… [But] our way of life makes things difficult. People… take their hoes and go to the fields, and will not make the time fixed for the meeting…” With the high number of female-headed houses in the region – a result of the disruption of war and labour migration – women are particularly vulnerable to this barrier to greater community involvement.
Several narrators describe women’s crushing workload, especially for divorced or deserted mothers, and some point out that their sense of isolation compounds the practical difficulties. Maria says that one of the hardest consequences for a woman abandoned by her husband, as she was, is having “no one to share her problems with and find ways of overcoming them”. Widowed Raquelina suffers from ill-health yet still works her fields. The constant attacks on her crops by rats and hippos leave her close to despair: “Whenever we try to do something, it goes wrong… We live in a time of suffering.”
Despite such obstacles, the women remain optimistic about progress. Jorgina, another single parent, says that today “men listen to women when they talk about the issues of the family, their lives, or even of the communities.” A crucial reason for this is that girls now have more education: “It is not like in the past when girls were required to give up their education… The government gives everybody the right to study, including women.”