News / Cyclone Idai

Finding Steady Work was Already Difficult for Women in Mozambique. Then Came Cyclone Idai.

The catastrophic cyclone destroyed farmlands, factories and livelihoods, and created an uncertain future for Mozambique’s working women.

When Maria Antonio Augusto’s husband passed away suddenly in 2005, Maria, now 39, had to figure out how to support five children on her own. She was thrust into a Mozambican workforce not necessarily structured to accommodate women. In the 15 years since her husband died, she has struggled to find a stable source of income, instead working a series of jobs that has included housekeeping, teaching and farming.

“I did house chores for other people for five years,” she says. “I taught children how to read and write in Portuguese for four years. Sometimes I also make and sell popsicles. … My mother has a rice field, so I help her with the farming as well, but our needs are more than what I can provide so my brother helps me sometimes.”

Maria and her family, which now includes a 6-month-old grandchild, live in Munhava Matope, a low-income and densely populated suburb of Beira, the largest city in central Mozambique. She’s managed over the years to bring in enough to keep her children in school, but as a grandmother, she says finding regular work is more difficult than ever.

“At my age I cannot find a job because no one will hire me,” Maria says. “For men it’s different because they would usually manage to find work, even if short-term jobs. Employers do not want women; they want men who are strong and can do hard work. If I were a man, I would have many more opportunities.”

If I were a man, I would have many more opportunities.

Although Mozambique’s economy has been steadily growing, the country still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality. Violence against women is a widespread issue and, according to U.N. Women, “economic empowerment remains a challenge for the women of Mozambique. For example, women account for 87.3% of the labour force in agriculture, but are only 25% of the land owners holding official user rights.”

Amelia Donaldo, 42, has been supporting her three children on her own since her husband abandoned the family five years ago.

“Because many of us do not have a husband we have to rely on ourselves,” she says. “Here, women rely on their husbands to provide for them and for their families. If we are not married, no one supports us because it’s hard for women to get a job.”

The situation only became more difficult following Cyclone Idai. The storm, one of the worst weather catastrophes to hit southern Africa in recorded history, destroyed farmlands and crops and shut down factories. Factory workers were sent home indefinitely, leaving them with no source of income and competing for the same already limited opportunities.

Idai destroyed homes and caused extensive damage in Munhava Matope, where Maria lives.

“We were expecting to harvest more rice this year if it wasn’t for the cyclone,” she says. “I’m thinking to do my household work again instead of waiting for help from someone else, especially since I no longer have the chance to help my mother in her fields since the cyclone washed everything away.”

25%

of women are official landowners in Mozambique

CARE distributed buckets, pots, tarps, and other desperately need items in Munhava Matope following the storm. Efforts to support those impacted are ongoing. But as is the case in most emergency situations, women, especially those without a male supporter, face specific challenges accessing support services and frequently face discrimination when looking for work.

“When women ask for work at the port, they are often pushed aside and told that these jobs require men because they are stronger,” says Carlota Munissimbe, 34, mother of six. “I tried to find work there a few times and the response from the men there was, ‘You cannot work here, these bags are too heavy.’ The older women were sent away immediately, some of the younger women were luckier, but only if they waited until after the men found work.”

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