Women’s rights in the developing world: Build it and it will come?

As originally post at opendemocracy.net.

By Valerie Percival

Mozambique is a land of contradictions.

Women were active in the independence struggle. Strong female civic leaders, like Graça Machel, participate actively in public life. And the government unequivocally supports international norms on women’s equality, such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals. Even the UN Website in Mozambique proudly asserts “there is a juridical, political and institutional structure in Mozambique favourable to the promotion of gender issues and the empowerment of women.”

Yet Mozambique remains a very difficult place for girls and women. Female literacy rates, their education attainment and poverty levels, and their health outcomes are appalling. Sexual and physical abuse is widespread. It has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage. Sexual assault in school is common, from boys as well as some teachers who demand sex as a condition for grade promotion.

Clearly the rights of women and girls are not respected, protected, or even properly understood.

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