In the heart of Moamba district, Higino's* descent into unemployment and subsequent reliance on alcohol became a catalyst for an increase in domestic violence. Cecilia*, his partner, often downplayed the severity of the abuse, attributing it to momentary lapses. Her hope clung to the belief that once Higino found employment, the storm within their home would subside. 

As the world observes the 32nd anniversary of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, the unsettling truth remains that nearly one in three women globally has endured physical and/or sexual violence. In the complex landscape of Mozambique, where conflict and displacement persist, internally displaced women are particularly at risk of gender-based violence. The armed conflict and natural hazards in Northern Mozambique have forced over 668 thousand individuals to flee their homes, amplifying the risks of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) for women and girls. 

Higino's controlling behavior extended to forbidding Cecilia from accessing the community health center and refusing to use contraceptives. However, after a particularly harrowing episode, Cecilia found the courage to seek help. This is when Vania, an IOM’s change agent entered their lives. 

In crises, women and girls face heightened risks of violence, abuse, and exploitation, including abduction, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and trafficking. These dangers arise during attacks or result from negative coping mechanisms adopted after displacement due to poverty, limited livelihood, and educational opportunities. 

“In our community, there's violence. Men are hurting women, and girls as young as fifteen are having babies. There's even a girl who got pregnant by her school teacher. It's just not okay. This is a problem, isn’t it?," inquires Suna Tuacale, a community leader in northern Mozambique and a participant of Community Safety Councils, a platform supported by IOM for the community and law enforcement officers to address and resolve various issues, including GBV.  

Since January 2023, IOM has reached over 40,000 women and girls in Northern Mozambique, offering immediate referrals to specialized services, counseling, emergency shelter, emergency transportation, and livelihood support. This effort is not merely about assistance; it's a testament to IOM's commitment to breaking the cycle of violence and providing a glimmer of hope in difficult circumstances.

Mobile health brigades play a crucial role in reaching women in various, sometimes isolated, locations. Photo: Shanice Ubisse / IOM 2021

Vania, the change agent part of IOM’s “Know no borders” project played a pivotal role in Cecilia and Higino's lives. The project seeks to improve the sexual and reproductive health of both migrant and non-migrant adolescents and young people, sex workers and others who live in migration-affected communities. Armed with patience and empathy, Vania provided psychosocial support as they addressed gender-based violence (GBV), engaging in home visits, counseling sessions, and educational discussions. Confronting the challenge of their sexual health, the couple discovered they were both HIV+ during a visit to the community health center, leading to a shared commitment to undergo art therapy and counseling. Since their connection with Vania, Cecilia and Higino have experienced a shift in their relationship dynamics, replacing physical violence with mutual support. Vania's ongoing home visits ensure adherence to their medication and connection to a broader support network.  

IOM adopts a multi-sectorial approach to address the diverse needs of those at risk of experiencing GBV. From mental health and psychosocial support to shelter, health services and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives, IOM ensures a comprehensive response. Additionally, community-based activities are strategically designed to challenge harmful gender norms and societal constructs, aiming for lasting behavioral change.

IOM conducts theater sessions to raise community awareness and challenge harmful norms about Gender-Based Violence. Photo: Amanda Nero / IOM 2023

A good example of IOM and partners commitment to creating safe and inclusive spaces within displacement settings is the Women Participation Project (WPP), under the global Camp Coordination and Camp Management cluster, which is driving initiatives to curb GBV risks in displacement sites. From empowering women through leadership roles and decision-making in women's committees to fostering awareness among men through sensitization activities, the multifaceted approach addresses the specific needs of women. Initiatives like the Livelihood Creation Program, literacy capacity building, and community gardening are weaving a tapestry of empowerment, education, and community cohesion. It's a comprehensive effort to redefine the narrative, ensuring that displacement doesn't mean compromise but an opportunity for growth and empowerment.

IOM activists actively engage with communities as part of the 16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence. Photo: Maxwell Raiva / IOM 2023

“The challenges extend beyond individual experiences. Migrants in vulnerable situations, traveling without proper documentation, are at a heightened risk of GBV victimization. Fear of consequences, such as deportation or detention, may hinder reporting instances of GBV, abuse, and exploitation. These individuals face power imbalances at every stage of their journey. In some cases, women may even enter (often forced) marriages for protection,” explains Giulia Tshilumba, IOM’s Protection Programme Officer. 

IOM's commitment goes beyond immediate assistance. The organization actively works to strengthen the capacity of government counterparts on GBV response. Collaborating with governments, the United Nations, international and non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and development partners, IOM addresses all aspects of GBV, from mitigating risks, to supporting survivors and addressing the root causes and conditions that perpetuate GBV.

IOM conducts theater sessions to raise community awareness and challenge harmful norms about Gender-Based Violence. Photo: Amanda Nero / IOM 2023

As we delve into the 16 Days of Activism, let's acknowledge the urgency of investing in efforts to prevent, mitigate, and respond to GBV. IOM's comprehensive approach not only addresses the immediate needs of survivors but also empowers displaced women and girls in decision-making processes fostering sustainable solutions for affected communities. Together, let's build a future free from gender-based violence, ensuring that the voices of migrants are heard, and their rights protected. Initiate and participate in conversations about gender-based violence. Encourage open dialogue within communities, workplaces, and online spaces to break the silence surrounding these issues. 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals