An Assessment of Women's Participation in the Mozambican Democratic Process
Mozambique, because of its history, has been much influenced by international events and conditions. The colonial process in Mozambique imported the administrative structure from Portugal with complete disregard for local administrative logic and functions. Up to the 1970s, gender equity was hardly discussed in Portuguese-influenced circles of either rural or urban Mozambican cultures, and very seldom came to the public's attention. After independence in 1975, colonial borders were maintained, and the Portuguese state apparatus was not completely eliminated. Quite the contrary: the new socialist ideology reinforced the centralized and bureaucratic character of the state. This new ideology also tried to force a national identity, completely suppressing any kind of ethnic affiliation and loyalty. In addition, the industry-based ideal of development strongly repressed alternative indigenous economic modes of production. Although the role of women in society became an important issue in the revolutionary discourse, women were not necessarily regarded as equal to men. Women got their own national celebration day, and their own national civic organization, affiliated with the ruling party, through which they could express themselves politically. They were not, however, expected to be the heads of households, nor to have the same rights, obligations and responsibilities as males within the family.
The second republic, instituted in 1990, adopted a new constitution that introduced western democratic principles, with increased civil and political liberties. For example, one party rule was eliminated; separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers was instituted; independent associations and new parties were allowed to constitute themselves; and the protection of freedom of the press was formalized. The relationship already established with the World Bank and other donor countries and institutions further reinforced economic, administrative, political and social changes. Issues such as administrative decentralization, democratization, civil society reinforcement and gender became central to development. Civil society and gender awareness have indeed grown with the mushrooming of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). But this has not translated into local ownership of change, as the international organizations' development models still prevail. Often, access to financing, credit, allowance, and aid relief is based on conditions which impose standardized ideals for socioeconomic growth. Thus, development concepts have been strongly politicized, and introduced into political jargon with the sole aim of being financed. The notion of the nation-state, for instance, idealized in the first republic, has opened up to the acknowledgement of local leadership, as well as the attempted introduction of some local languages into the educational system. For many, these changes have not necessarily meant recognition of different ethnicities per se, but rather an opportunity to use ethnic and local specific affiliations and networks for political gains. This could assure not only more support in the elections, but also the dilution of any opposition discourse founded in ethnic related issues.
In this context, we discuss if and how concepts such as nation, democracy and gender are relevant, efficient and incorporated into electoral discourses as a part of the Mozambican democratization process. Global ideas have been aiming at results without regard for processes to such a degree that society has not been able to keep up with institutional intentions and policies. Public policies and ideas remain too vague on most issues deemed globally unavoidable and essential.
Feminist Theory and the Place of Gender in a Multiethnic Background
Many feminist theories argue that categories such as gender, race and class do not exist in isolation, but are part of an intimate relationship. Globally, Mozambique forms part of a 'race' and 'class' of sub-Saharan peripheral countries. These countries have their own understandings of their place in the global sphere, which is not often translated into a similar evaluation by the 'global eye.' They seldom perceive themselves the same way the world perceives and categorizes them.
Typically, countries such as Mozambique lack the power to negotiate their own fate. More often, ideas and theories from northern states prevail, and processes considered normal are introduced, regardless of relevance or preparedness. Thus, rural women learn about the idea of equal opportunities only to find them an abstract, distant and foreign notion. The reality they are submerged in does not provide the means to effectively achieve these equal opportunities as the implementers imagine them.
A good example of this are the rules governing Mozambican nationals - rules that are influenced by foreign practices and have been since colonial times. Regimes have changed, but even today's laws are still not based in local practice. This has made it difficult to apply laws, as the majority do not understand or relate to them. Even rulers, who might have once been part of the margins, lead contradictory lives. They take on the new values of the global centre and try to force the devalued peripheral values out, often without entirely incorporating the newly acquired values either.
While race, class and gender are interconnected categories at the individual level, they also operate at national, international and global levels. This is because nations may also be considered entities with their own 'class' and 'race' in the global sphere, but also because gendered subjects within them will always be affected by the way a particular 'race' and 'class' of a country is positioned within the global system.
What do Nation, Democracy and Gender Mean to Mozambique?
In Mozambique's case, democracy has been synonymous with the truce between government and the rebel guerilla in the war between 1977 and 1992. There is also an unclear idea of what sort of a nation Mozambique is or is striving to be. Governments have been systematically failing to address the country's multiplicity of ethnic identities and affiliations, religions and other sources of difference. Alternating between suppressing and celebrating difference, as well as between a total rejection of the colonial legacy and the incorporation of new legislation from the former metropolis, the country has yet to define its effective identity and sense of direction. The challenge remains: Which notions of nation, democracy and gender will be used to guide Mozambique into prosperity and wellbeing?
The 2004 Elections
After observing 45 days of televised public media coverage of political parties and presidential candidates during the 2004 electoral campaign, we concluded the following:
* Gender had a relatively secondary role within electoral campaign speeches. It was not considered an essential subject to national development in the way that issues such as employment, water and sanitation, transport and communication, schooling and health, were. Speeches about gender were mostly used as a mobilization tool for a selected female voter demographic. Gender was most often mentioned where the audience was primarily composed of women or when the candidate was a woman, both during her own speech or when interviewed by journalists. In certain localities, the choice of a female candidate was not publicly justified by certain political forces as based on her competence or because of a possible gender equity policy of her party. Rather, female candidacy was due to specific historical contexts such as the civil war and migration patterns, which had both reduced the male population in the area.
* Nation was also an issue very weakly developed during the electoral speeches. There was no plan of action to address the hidden problems that might come about regarding issues such as ethnicity and power sharing. For a long time the issue of ethnicity has been considered a taboo in Mo/ambique. The constitution states that no party is allowed to be based on ethnic grounds and interests. However, during the campaign there were still accusations by the ruling party that certain parties were appealing to tribal votes. Opposition parties, on the other hand, argued in their speeches that the government only represented the interests of the southern region, which was privileged over the rest of the country, and that the current party's governance has stripped the Mozambican people of its dignity. The ruling party has long been perceived as associated with the southern ethnic group, as all of its past leaders came from the south. This is a theme opposition parties use to reach audiences frustrated with their lack of opportunities. This climate of 'ethnic' suspicion hides a strong need for a project of nationbuilding, something that was never mentioned during the campaign.
* Democracy was a more recurrent subject with the most varied interpretations. Parties and candidates either described the Mozambican democratic process as consolidated, or as suffering from partisan politics, or as in need of regularly alternating the ruling party. Both the ruling party, Frente de Libertaçâo de Moçambique (FRELIMO). and the major opposition party, Resistëncia Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO), claim the achievement of institutionalized democracy for themselves. Thus, the ruling party maintains that democracy in Mozambique is in the process of consolidation, while the opposition claims that only they can really finalize the process of democratization. The major opposition party goes so far as to argue that the current state is still without the rule of law. The smaller opposition parties, on the other hand, see alternating power as the best sign of true democracy. For them it will only be when the ruling party loses its hold on power that democracy will have finally entered the political arena. It appears, then, that for the political actors in Mozambique democracy is nothing more than the act of voting, after which citizens cease to have importance, role or voice in the democratic process. There is no public participation regarding the structure and role of the different public institutions, including some traditional ones. And there is definitely no broad discussion around what type of democracy and representation the country is aiming for.
The concepts of democratization, social and economic stability and respect for gender equality within a development framework do exist in Mozambique, and are being used in the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy Plans. However, the major players in the democratization process not only do not use these concepts in the crosscutting manner they should be used, but they also do not seem to grasp the important connections between these ideas. The question then unfolds as to whether this lack of attention and implementation is due to a clash with local values and resistance to the 'global pace', or simply political apathy.
Not recognizing the role that rooted, rediscovered or recreated social values might play in 'silently' (and at times not so silently) hampering globalizing processes, such as democratization, nation stabilization and gender equity, development could cause serious problems in Mozambique. Despite the efforts of the international and donor community, Mozambique will not walk in the pace of development expected or demanded. This is especially the case if as a nation Mozambique continues to design development strategies that conform with international norms, rather than profoundly reflect on the ways that these norms can include Mozambican identities. Clearly, as gender issues go, there will continue to be a meager space for any pressure group to discuss, lobby and ensure equality of opportunities within such a divided and fairly unsettled civil society.
Carmeliza Rosário has a BA in Anthropology from the lnstituto Superior de Ciências Socials e Políticas, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa and a Masters in Social Anthropology from Stockholm University. She is a full-time consultant for Austral Consultoria e Projectos, where her research and analysis has included issues such as health, energy, education, roads, gender and HIV/AIDS.
Emídio Machiana has a BA in History, from Universidade Eduardo Mondlane and an MA in International Communications from the University of Leeds. He has recently joined UNICEF Mozambique as Assistant Communications Officer for External Relations. He has also been involved in the designing of Agenda 2025, a multi-sector task force for long-term strategic development planning in Mozambique.…