Power of the Streets Episode 8: By engaging with politics, citizens can demand justice and good governance from their governments and leaders. But women political activists face unique challenges. Fatima speaks about why she continues to push for space for citizens voices and women’s recognition in governance.
Follow Fatima on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fatima.mimbire
Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fatima_f2m?lang=en
About Power of the Streets
Power of the Streets is a podcast about how we speak truth to power. In a series of intimate interviews, host Audrey Kawire Wabwire brings us the achievements and stories of the young people driving Africa’s human rights movement.
Audrey: This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire, based in Nairobi, Kenya.
We’ve already been to Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Gambia, Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia, speaking with some of the people leading the #MeToo movement in Africa. If you haven’t already, please check out all the previous episodes to catch up.
Now, this is the final episode of our very first season, and we are taking this conversation to Mozambique.
Everyone we speak to in this series has a second, a minute, or an hour when they realise that they need to make a change. The moment when they decide to step up, and rise.
Fátima: We are 52% of the population. How come the decision making process, which are took by politicians, we are not took in consideration. We are not there influencing.
Audrey: That is Fátima Mimbire. She is a writer, human rights defender and a political activist in Mozambique. She advocates for women’s rights and she believes that citizens should be more engaged in politics and every day governance.
Fátima: We will die one day. We are, I used to use a expression saying that we all are in this world pilgrimaging for the death, right? The end is to die, right? So just choose how do you want to die. So I, I, I chose to die defending ideal. I know that I will die. If they want to kill me, they can kill me.
Audrey: To start off, you're a human rights activist in Mozambique and you champion citizens participation in politics and governance. What are you trying to change when you push for more people to take part in governance?
Fátima: Well, first of all, we need to recognize that the exercise of uh politic-power relies to the citizens because they are the ones who choose the representatives or the ones who will lead the country. We have responsibilities to monitor, to contribute, to hold them accountable. Uh, and what we feel, particularly, what I feel is that, uh, we have people or citizens are aware and responsive in terms of voting process. They recognize that this is a responsibility, but once, uh, the government or the elected people are sworn, they forget about the role they do have. They allow them to do whatever they want. Uh, they don't want to participate. They complain, but they don't contribute. Uh, and then they abuse of power, we just accept that.
The poorest are becoming more poor and the rich people are becoming richer. And why? Because they are part of political elite. So I decided to be a voice that, um, inspires other voices other people to come up and participate, to come up and revendicate, to come up and ask the government, hold the government accountable. And that is interesting because I'm a woman and people says, uh, from where she got this courage. And I used to say that, uh, I was emancipated from my home. Okay. My parents allowed us to...
Audrey: Wait, wait Fátima, wait, wait. That is a very interesting point. Very interesting point, you know yeah. Just let let's really go back to the beginning. You know, you're speaking really passionately about pushing for citizens to demand better from their government. And this is something, you know, that you started in your childhood or even as a teenager, but was there a moment that, you know, you decided no, I'm going to speak up and I'm not going to take this anymore. Was there a particular time when you decided to be an activist?
Fátima: I worked 10 years in, in, in, in, in news rooms as a journalist. The trigger point for me was while I understood that being journalists in Mozambique is not enough to influence the public debate, is not enough to fuel, um, and challenge the government. In other countries we, we see that happening, but in Mozambique don't because the, the, the editorials are controlled. The gatekeepers are controlled people.
And I remember my last episode as a journalist and that was expensive for me was the, in the meeting in 2008, we were facing the start of this global economic crisis. And the cereals crisis also came in.
Audrey: In 2008, global food prices of rice, wheat, maize and oil increased on international markets. Since Mozambique imports over 60% of its cereal products, local demand was severely impacted, and the prices of these cereal increased locally.
Fátima: As some markets started to close and not export, uh, their cereals for other countries. So we were invited for a press conference. They called us on Saturday to explain to the citizens that they are creating a strategy to, to produce cereals in the country.
And I said, sorry, Mr. Minister, I do understand very well, what you are saying. You are presenting us a very good plan, but this plan is not feasible for short-term where we are facing a crisis and tomorrow we will not have rice, uh, and, and maize and so forth to give to our people. So what will you do? So we will be, need to wait for three, four, five years to have that, that products available for our people. And my colleagues, once we came out, started to ask Fátima, you are saying that this gov, uh, this people from government, they are, they are useless. I said, yes, I'm telling that because we are facing these, we are hungry now because of them, they are not doing their work. Before I being journalist I'm a citizen. And these measures, will affect me in the first stage.
Audrey: So Fatima, I, you know, you, you're, you're very serious that, you know, you're, you're going to use your voice to speak up as a citizen and push for more people to be involved in, you know, uh, asking for change from the government. But as you started mentioned, you're a woman speaking about politics and you're in the minority, in a male-dominated field. And you have said that, um, in the past that you received threats for your work. So in this show, we are speaking about gender-based violence and how people are standing up against it, on the continent be it, uh, cyber-bullying or verbal or physical. So could you tell me about some of the threats you received and how you responded against them? How you responded to them?
Fátima: I was exposed in WhatsApp messages that circulated saying that I am a foreigner agent, like I'm not defending the interest of my country, but I'm defending the interest of the foreigners who are enemies of this country. Uh, like, because the civil society organizations are financed by international institutions like embassies. So we are serving the interests of that embassies, which are not for the good of Mozambique. So saying that I'm not genuine in what I'm talking about in what I'm revendicating, but I I'm clear that this is not something that I agreed with them. There is a work that I do, and I report to them because they are financing, but there are civic intervention that has nothing to do with the donors is about the Mozambican with its government. Okay, it's about me and my government. The second one where really direct threats in my Facebook account. But the one who really shocked me and is really a serious threat was once a member of parliament.
And I have to underline that that was a woman. We were discussing about the death of Afonso Dhlakama the opposite, the main opposition leader who died, uh, in, I think, two or three years ago. And we were discussing about him, the role he has and so forth. And I said that he was a hero for some and a villain for others. And I was making that assessment saying that some people recognize his role for democracy fight in this country. And some girl who wrote in, in her WhatsApp, uh wall saying that, who is that Fátima Mimbire who is saying that Afonso Dhlakama is them hero? And that that's, um, member of parliament said that Fátima is an oppositor, she deserves to be raped by 10 strong and big men in order to correct her conduct. She is an agitator. So she needs to be punished. I have no relationship with that woman.
Audrey: That is terrible!
Fátima: Yes. It was shocking, and that woman at the parliament supposedly she represents me and other women that were already raped. And she saying that rape is the way to correct a deviated behavior. That was the main message she brought out.
Audrey: Where did she say this?
Fátima: She, she said that on Facebook. She was commenting and she said that. Then people saw that people calling me saying, did you see that? And I received screenshots and so forth. So the society, the people at Facebook started to complain to name and shame her asking to her to step up from the parliament seat and so forth. Uh, so that came to me and I had to, to, to, to address the situation.
So in 2019, I was marching. And the main message was that stop sexual harassment, because these are the main reason of, sexual violence is the main kind of violence affecting women. And every day we see news saying that a woman was arrest sexually violated, or a kid or a baby with one just one year was violated. How come we do accept such a thing? And months after my, my home was, was assaulted. And I had to run off from that, uh, for, for, for three months...
Audrey: Oh, what happened?
Fátima: They came in into my home. They robbed, they took my husband computer, because mine was with me. They took the home computer that we use our desktop, that we use with our kids, or when we are doing work here, they got in my room, they searched different things.
I found all my document as spread on the, on, on the, on the floor. Uh, they opened the doors and left that doors open. And the kind of things that they took, uh, the way they got in was a clear message for me. Not that they wanted to take something here. They just took something here to show, uh, or to convince us that this was a normal assault, but it wasn't, this was a message. Uh intimidating me and intimidating at the guys in the, in the, in the, in the society.
It is important to underline that I was traveling. And it was the day I was coming back in the, uh, in the, in the night of the day that I was, I was coming back. So it was really a message for me. I also, uh, um, went to the police to expose the case, but they didn't come to my home to do this investigation, to find fingerprints and so forth. No. So the case is closed because nothing happened. And no one gives me an explanation about what happened.
Audrey: Fátima, I, I hear what you're saying, what I'd like to understand more, is it common for women who participate in politics like you to be threatened?
Fátima: We have a history from past where voice women were killed. There is a woman called Joana Simao who was killed in a brutal way. She was, if you go to internet, you can find some about her. She was a voice lady. She created a group or a political party. She was, uh, after the independence, she was discussing on how the country should be run. She was discussing about the pattern. The state was the same thing. And she was demanding for, for, for democracy, for the elections in a time that that was unthinkable. And she was speaking up about that. And she was killed in a brutal way until now some people in her family don't know where she is. So this is one example. Alice Mabota is another, another woman that was threatened more than me. What I was, uh, exposed to is nothing related to what she did.
She's a heroin, that's that we need to recognize the role she, she had for, for human rights, uh, recognition from, uh, the people in the, in the jail, the common citizen people affected in, in rural areas by and so forth. So there is a kind of, history of women that try, uh, um, dared to, to, challenge the establishment that were really, um, threats. Uh, we see some women in political parties. We saw some running for a position, but once they are there, they are exposed. They are, they are, um, how can I say their private life comes out. Their nude pictures are put in public domain just to name and shame them. And that's the reason, I guess, that there is no much significant numbers of women in Mozambique engaged in politics.
Audrey: So this is very interesting, and it's very energizing to see that, you know, you are not deterred, you're not stopped by, um, the threats and the difficulties in challenging the government. Something more personal I'd like to know is how has your family and other close people reacted to your activism and your work?
Fátima: Yeah, it's not, it's not easy to deal with that. My husband, he's my friend, my supporter, is the one who you know sometimes I think I will give up and he says, no, I know what are you fighting for? Look at your, your children and just do things for them. So it's someone who supports me unconditionally. My father is my main inspiration, because as I said, in some stage of this conversation, I was emancipated from my home. Um, coming from a family of, uh, six siblings. We, we, we were six. I am the fifth one. Um, we have three boys and three girls. And my, my father was someone who always spoke to her to us. We have no problem at home that was not discussed in an assembly.
So if someone did something, we all will be convened to discuss that issue, to the, see the decision making process, we were all involved, all of us, even in a sensitive situations. We were there. There is a piece of information that for me, it's really interesting and I'd like to share here. Once I was about to get married, we have such a kind of a Lobola.
Audrey: Yes, I know Lobola.
Fátima: So I was to be, um, in that ceremony. So the family convened with the uncles, aunties, and the uncles, aunties decided that oh we should ask them this amount. And then once these guys went off, I went to my, my father and my, my, my mom. And I said, look, I, this is a symbolic payment. I am not being, um, bought, it’ss not about buying me. It's about the symbolism, traditional symbolism. So let's be clear about that.
This amount is huge. I'm not accepting that. I know the guy, and I know that this is a huge amount. My father says, ‘oh, well, how will we handle that?’ I said, well, the aunties and uncles. They can say whatever they want. They don't know us. They don't know the conditions of my fiancé. So please, I will tell you how much he is charged, which is lower than what the family demanded. So we agreed on that. I had the word to say on that. My question is how many women, how many girls are hurt from their families was, is to take such a kind of decision that will affect their lives and these gender based violence. Some cases has a base from that kind of situations, how the families deal with this, uh way that this girl is getting married, traditionally, the monetary financial relationship. So once having a voice to say to your parents that, no, I don't agree with that. It's something that emancipates you.
Audrey: Now. Now, here you are. I know that you're inspiring many young women when they see you in Mozambique, they see you speaking up, uh, bravely publicly, and you're very involved in politics and you're not afraid, but you know, like you said, it's, it's difficult and it's scary. Um, the violence you face, the cyber bullying, um, being… your home being targeted, there are very many threats. What is your message to other women who either they want to start being more involved or they're already doing this work? What is your message to inspire them, to push them forward?
Fátima: Well, yeah, my main message is that we cannot, uh, be a part of a political debate of our country because even the, um, um, gender based violence has a root cause in, in the policies that the country implements. So the kind of leaders or politicians we have that will push for better policies for better measures to, to deal with gender based violence is all related to politics. So it's not something that we can run away. So it's something that is, has everything to do with us that affects our life. So we need to understand that people says, I don't like politics. You have to like politics because it's from there where you, your life is decided, the things that affects you, your quality of life, your security, we are now talking about peace in Mozambique, how many women are affected by these instability and all this is about politics. So we need, we have to be involved in that.
Audrey: Now Fátima, you know, you're doing very heavy work. I can tell by some of the things you go through, some of, you know, uh, what you have to maneuver and the threats, the difficulty. How do you take time off and relax and reset? What do you usually do to, you know, just chill out?
Fátima: We find ways to chill out, to relax. Books are good. I write, I'm writing my poems. I'm writing a book now about corruption that I, the title that I created, is [in Portuguese] is the kind of dance, uh, the, uh, traditional dance in Mozambique, but [in Portuguese] has another, um, um, meaning, uh, that can take us to say that that erupts uh, or which prejudices, uh, something like that. So writing, um, so relaxing with family, uh, giving quality time, doing cooking with the family in the kitchen, um, messing the kitchen, so this kind of things, watching movies. So I like a lot of comedy, action. So I found at home that place where I found my peace.
Audrey: Okay. That's really interesting. Um, um, I've, I've been cooking a lot during COVID, but you know, I've never been a great cook, so I really experiment and you know, my son has to eat everything that works out or doesn't work yeah. Yeah. Um, for someone who's listening right now, where can they find you, your Facebook? And follow your work right now?
Fátima: They can follow me on Facebook. I'm there, very active. It's Fátima Mimbire. M I M B I R E uh, I'm there. I have a lot of friends. Uh, I have a lot of, um, publications and now fortunately Facebook does, uh, translation to English. So you can read, uh, what I used to write, so it is discussion about politics. My YouTube channel is not ready yet. I'm working on it. Uh, on YouTube. You can look for [in Portuguese]. I was there until, uh, June, 2019. So you will listen to my contributions, my participation in public debates. There is a lot, but these are the main places where they can find me. Facebook, Youtube - not my specific channel - but the [in Portuguese] program.
Audrey: You have been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Fátima and where you can find her work.
This is the end of the first season of Power of the Streets, where we focused on the #MeToo movement in Africa. It’s been such an honor and a great journey speaking to all these amazing African activists. Please share the series with a friend and rate the show wherever you listen. We’d love to hear your feedback! Tell us what you think using the hashtag Power of the Streets on social media, and share your thoughts with Fátima or any of the guests we had in this season, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch visit HRW.org. Follow us on Twitter @HRW and on Instagram @humanrightswatch for updates on the show and more bonus episodes coming soon!
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song Au Revoir is produced by Young OG beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening.