In Mozambique, one man is uniting his community to end violence against women.
When activists came to his neighborhood to set up women’s group meetings, Humberto Julai Novela was the first one to hear the news.
“I am the unit leader of my neighborhood,” Humberto explains. He vividly remembers his first conversation with the visiting activists. “They met with me to describe what they wanted to do. They had come to talk about the female condom.”
Humberto had heard about the female condom before. “But when I met with the activists, l learned more about hospital services,” he says, “and about all types of contraceptive methods.”
He was happy to help organize meetings for the women in his community—and he decided to sit in on the meetings to show his support.
The first session gave him an idea. “I told them, why not have male groups? I could organize them!” he recalls with an easy smile.
Humberto lives in Chokwe, a rural district in Mozambique’s Gaza province. As he tells his story, two of his children play nearby, and a few of the neighbors listen in. Humberto has been a unit leader for many years, and he’s respected throughout his neighborhood. Once he had received training, he was a natural at bringing men together to share knowledge about contraception.
The majority of men know about the pill, but some say that their wives don’t feel well about it. So I tell the men that women can go to the hospital—to see which method best suits them.”
Today, Humberto shares information he gained from Pathfinder-trained activists with men in his community. He’s passionate about helping his neighbors address the issues that most affect them.
This must include gender-based violence. “We’ve had a lot of violence here,” Humberto explains.
It’s important to address contraception and gender-based violence at the same time, according to Estrella Alcalde, Pathfinder’s project director for gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Mozambique. In communities like Chokwe, reducing violence and improving reproductive choice go hand in hand.
“We know of cases where women have been beaten because of their choice to use contraception,” she says. “Many women have been afraid to raise the topic with their partners. When there’s an environment of violence, women won’t talk about their contraception wishes. So violence has a direct impact on women’s choice. It really limits her freedom, and part of that freedom is access to contraception.”
Humberto’s Strong Influence
As the men of Chokwe pull up chairs in the shade to hear Humberto speak, it’s clear that they value his opinion. He’s hardworking and thoughtful, and he’s making the most of his position as a leader: he’s motivating his neighbors to educate themselves, understand their rights, and make informed choices for themselves and their families. And they know he’s always there to help.
“If they wake me up at night with some issue related to violence, I don’t want to leave it for the following day. We need to act before the problem grows,” he says.
With his help, couples in Chokwe are starting to talk about what violence means for them and for their community.
“It’s so important to have leaders like Humberto shape the conversation,” says Alcalde. “Gender-based violence is very common in Mozambique. It’s viewed as a private family matter. It’s usually silenced.
“When Humberto speaks out, he really has a strong influence on issues like gender equality,” she says. “He has so much knowledge and understanding on the ground level.”
“Humberto is a real champion, talking about stereotypes of men, talking about sexual and reproductive health issues,” she says. “He is really having an impact on the community.”
With an issue as pervasive and challenging as gender-based violence, it takes a village—starting with its leaders—to create an environment that’s ready for change.
In Chokwe, Humberto is working hard to help transform the attitude of silent acceptance. “People have become more aware of the effects of gender-based violence,” he says. “It’s reduced a lot because we have received a lot of information.” He’s committed to reducing the incidents of violence even more—one family at a time.
Humberto smiles as a few more neighbors join the husbands and fathers already waiting under the trees. It’s time for another men’s meeting to begin. “We want to continue making our neighborhood grow,” he says.
Gender-based violence isn’t the only issue Pathfinder works to address in Mozambique. Since 1997, we’ve been working with community leaders, local nonprofits, the legal and justice systems, and health care workers to make sure everyone in the country has access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Find out more about how our programs in Mozambique are helping some of the country’s most vulnerable populations: youth, women living with HIV, and sex workers and other marginalized groups.