Edma Bartolomeu João, aged 21, is one of the 783 mentors in total who have been trained in the scope of first year of the UN programme Rapariga Biz. Every week, she leads a meeting with around 30 young people aged 10-15 in Nampula City in northern Mozambique.
Photo: UNFPA Mozambique
Fewer child marriages and pregnancies when mentors strengthen young people
Amelia and Edma are two of the several hundred mentors who work to strengthen young girls in Mozambique so that they can stand up for their rights. The first year of the programme was successful and contributed to fewer young people getting married or becoming pregnant before they have turned 18.
“I once engaged in transactional sex without using contraceptives to be able to afford attending school. Now I use my own story to demonstrate to other girls that change is possible.”
Twenty-two-year-old Amelia* serves as a mentor for other girls in the Mozambique city of Quelimane, within the framework of UNFPA’s programme Rapariga Biz. She uses the money she earns to pay her school tuition. This has given her new hope, both for herself and other girls.
“I hope I can get the girls to discover that they can make different choices in their lives, just like I did,” she says.
Aim to reach one million girls
Rapariga Biz is a UN programme for sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people in Mozambique. It is led by the government with technical assistance from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) together with UNESCO, UNICEF and UN Women. The funding has been provided by Sida.
The programme aims to reach one million girls and young women in the ages 10-24 during the period 2016-2020. In the first year, it has reached more than 23,000 girls and young women in the provinces Nampula and Zambezia.
Amelia is one of a total of 783 mentors who have been trained in the programme’s first year. Edma Bartolomeu João, aged 21, is another young woman who chose to become a mentor.
“To empower the most vulnerable adolescent girls in my community to claim their rights and trust themselves is at the heart of my work as a mentor. Many girls are vulnerable to violence, early pregnancy and marriage when still children, which compromises their education and future,” says Edma.
Every week, she leads a session with around 30 young people aged 10-15 in Nampula City in northern Mozambique.
Mentors talk about the right to not be subjected to violence
Mamo Daudo, aged 15, describes Edma as her sister, adviser and role model.
“Edma came to my home after a session to ensure I understood the risks and consequences of falling pregnant. It made me change my risky sexual behaviours,” she says.
She dreams of becoming a mentor just like Edma and on her own initiative, she is now hosting mentorship sessions for younger girls in her home.
At her sessions, Edma discusses life skills and fundamental human rights, including the right to not be subjected to violence or child marriage. She teaches about sexual and reproductive health, and the consequences of becoming pregnant at a young age and how they can avoid it. She also helps to create a feeling of solidarity among the girls.
But her role as a mentor also entails challenges.
“Some adolescent girls leave school to marry for money in order to sustain their livelihoods. Some are engaging in unsafe sexual behaviours, unaware of the risks and their rights,” she says.
Child marriage and early pregnancy are common
In Mozambique, around 46 per cent of the girls aged 15-19 are either pregnant or already mothers, according to 2015 statistics from the Ministry of Health. Moreover, 48 per cent of the girls have married before turning 18.
Girls who get married or become pregnant before the age of 18 are usually forced to quit school and they are also at risk of complications, such as obstetric fistulas or even dying in connection with pregnancy or childbirth.
“The goal of Rapariga Biz is for the girls to be empowered, educated and healthy and have the possibility of making informed decisions about their lives,” says Bettina Maas, UNFPA’s representative in Mozambique.
The mentors are a core pillar of Rapariga Biz’s approach, which includes girls’ and young women’s participation in media, creating commitment in society and families, advocacy work and media campaigns, sexual and reproductive health care for adolescents and contributing to young people gaining more power over their finances.
The efforts of Edma, Amelia and others involved in Rapariga Bizs have led to significant progress in the first year of the programme. Among 9,294 young people aged 15-19, there were only five pregnancies and 150 marriages. This is a sign that a comprehensive approach to the problem can contribute to changing the situation for girls and young women in Mozambique.
*Not her real name.