Mozambique: Women forced to barter their bodies for food

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed that the female victims of Cyclone Idai, Mozambique, have been forced to have sex with local officials for a few morsels of food.

Tropical Cyclone Idai hit near the coastal city of Beira on March 14, 2019, and brought heavy rains and devastation that left entire villages in Manica, Sofala, and Zambezia provinces submerged. Thousands of people were displaced and the United Nations stated that over 1.85 million people, most of them women and children need assistance,

The UN World Food Programme says it has reached one million people with food assistance, in coordination with the government and the National Institute for Disaster Management but discrepancies in food packet allocations and also sexual exploitation of women that Human Rights Watch has disclosed is simply too appalling.

HRW quoted an unknown aid worker who claimed that food allocation list does not even have the names of households that have women as the family heads; only the names of male rural households are in the list.

This has left scores of women run households at the mercy of exploiters. These exploiters use food as bait to make women fall prey to their sexual desires.

One aid worker told HRW:

“In some of the villages, women and their children have not seen any food for weeks,” she said. “They would do anything for food, including sleeping with men in charge of the food distribution.”

HRW report notes the case of a woman who said that for weeks she had been struggling to feed her children on wet corn and fruits they managed to pick up as the ground dried out.

This victim said that when the food distribution started on April 6, a man locally known as a Frelimo secretary who oversaw the distribution list told her that her name was not on the list. He told her to go wait at home, and that he would come later “to help her if she helped him too.” The woman told HRW that in the evening, the man brought a bag of rice, a bag of corn flour, and one kilo of beans. “When he arrived, he placed the bags on the floor, and started touching his thing [penis] and told me it was now my turn thank him,” she said. “I told my children to go to my friend’s house. When they left, I slept with him.”

Another woman who spoke to HRW has four children, she said that only her father had his name on the list and the food allocated to him was not enough for their entire household of 17.

She spoke to a community leader who offered to help. “He said he could help me if I was nice to him,” she said. “We agreed on a time to meet and do the thing [have sex]. When we finished, he gave me only a kilo of beans. When I complained, he said ‘Tomorrow there will be more.’”

Incidents like these have been reported also in camps for internally displaced people.

Many women victims are also afraid to speak out as they fear backlash from local authorities. But while it is important that the government and authorities do their job and ensure that the abusers get due punishment, what is equally important is that the UN World Food Programme ups its efforts and put names of women-headed households in the food distribution lists.

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