by Fellipe Abreu
After wandering around the endless alleys of Maxaquene B, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique, we finally approached the meeting point—the home of Dona Cacilda, the leader of the women’s empowerment group we were visiting. It was easy to know which of the small houses we should enter. We just needed to follow the voices that were singing in Shangaan, the language of the predominant ethnic group in Maputo. The search ended in a dirt yard, where about 20 women sang and danced excitedly. Two men in the background watched from afar. Even without knowing a word of Shangaan, it was easy to understand what the group was singing about as each woman proudly held a white bottle in her hands.
Inside each bottle was hope for the future for each woman: the retroviral drugs she must take three times a day as part of her HIV treatment.
One of the women, Nuvunga Margaret, 28, says she decided to take the HIV exam because she was constantly sick. “When I got home and told my husband that the results were positive, he did not want to believe it and refused to take the test. Days later, he left me with two daughters and gave no sign of life ever again.” Without a job, she had to return to her parents’ house to live and is still not working.
Margaret is not the only woman suffering economic problems. Dona Cacilda Fumo, a housewife and the leader of the group, says the majority of the women in the group do not work. “One of the main factors for the spread of the disease in us women is the social status of Mozambican women,” she says. According to Fumo, the vast majority of women depend solely on the income of men, who often use their economic superiority to impose certain rules. “When women ask their husbands to use a condom during sexual intercourse, many of them say that since they are the ones working, the wife must accept relations without a condom. Because of their economic needs, women end up accepting it,” she says.
According to USAID, one in every 10 people in Mozambique has HIV, and 58 percent of them are women. Although the issue requires a series of comprehensive measures and is far from being solved, there are initiatives aimed at providing socioeconomic empowerment opportunities for Mozambican women.
The Mozambican Association of Recycling (AMOR) is one of them. Founded in 2010, AMOR is a nationwide network of recycling centers called Ecopontos. Each Ecoponto is run by disadvantaged women trying to enter the labor market, and many of them are HIV-positive.
“AMOR has a total of 10 recycling points, and six of them are run by HIV-positive women; the other four are managed by young people from other empowerment programs. In addition, three other HIV-positive women who have excelled at Ecopontos were hired to work in our headquarters,” explains Patricia Neves, AMOR’s general coordinator in Maputo, who also says that all HIV-positive women who are part of the project must go through HIV treatment. “They all have an obligation to take the medicine and attend monthly meetings,” she says.
Luisa Mula began working at an Ecoponto in 2012 and now works six days a week earning between $115 and $140 a month. “My life has improved a lot after I started working here. What I get is not much, but at least I can help with the household expenses; it’s a start,” Luisa says.
AMOR’s biggest success story is Celia Maria Nhabomga. She started working at an Ecoponto in March 2009, when there were only three centers in Maputo. “I found it interesting, the idea of working with recycling, and decided to try. I was gathering cardboard, plastic, bottles, magazines, glass, metal, and also electronic waste,” she says.
After working for just over a year as a collector, Nhabomga was promoted to the position of Ecopontos network coordinator at the AMOR headquarters. Her starting salary was 4,000 meticais and quickly increased to 7,000, along with meal allowances and transportation. “Also, I learned to make crafts with milk cartons, and today I produce wallets, cases, and bags, which are sold by AMOR as a way to promote the reusable materials. I teach other HIV-positive women, which is also another way to achieve our own money,” says Nhabomga.
In one year, AMOR recycles an average of 700 tons of solid waste, which the NGO then exports to countries such as South Africa.
By the end of 2016, AMOR intends to create 10 more Ecopontos in Cidade da Beira, the second-largest city in Mozambique, recycling around 2,000 tons per year and creating new jobs for Mozambican women.
“In a traditionally sexist society like in the south of Mozambique, financial independence and the empowerment of women through work can create opportunities for them to have better choices about their social positions and their partners,” says Neves.
This article first appeared on TakeApart.