Celebrating in Mozambique.

On March 8 – and every day – the Mozambique–Canada Maternal Health Project raises its voice in solidarity with all women and girls, in all their diversity and strength and courage, all around the world. On International Women’s Day (IWD) this year, we think especially of women and girls in conflict zones, caught in political unrest in the north of Mozambique, in Ethiopia, Sudan, Ukraine, Afghanistan, among many other places, and the ongoing violence of colonialism and racism impacting Indigenous and racialized women and girls in Canada and beyond.

Olinda on the left making a home visit to a community member and her new baby.

In the midst of such struggle, we wish to acknowledge the inspiring leadership of women in our own partner communities in Inhambane Province who embody the hope we all need. Olinda Faduco, President of the Bié, Morrumbene Community Health Committee, is one such leader. Despite deeply entrenched beliefs held in much of rural Mozambique, Olinda defies sexist preconceptions about male superiority to guide her health committee and community members through difficult discussions about the need for gender equality in pursuit of strengthened maternal and newborn health. Olinda navigates challenging learning processes by modeling what’s possible. She draws on the knowledge and experience of her neighbours to galvanize support for the community microproject – a flour grinder, which reduces physical labour often borne by women, increases food access for women and their families, and generates income for community health initiatives – and ensures women are fully involved. And she promotes creative problem-solving focussed on strengthening women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights, counselling women and girls along the way.

The UN Women’s theme this IWD is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. Certainly, in our individual lives and landscapes, we all have examples of women and girls working towards that future at a distance from, but in spirit with, Olinda. Here’s to each and every one of those brave women.