25 April 2018

Mozambique: Voter Registration Staff Still Turning Women Away

Maputo — Despite receiving instructions to the contrary, members of some voter registration brigades in Maputo are still refusing to register women whom they regard as improperly dressed.

On Wednesday morning, AIM received information of two attempts by voter registration staff to determine what women may or may not wear.

At a registration post in the National Physical Education Institute, brigade members turned away a woman whose shoulders were bare. They said they had “higher instructions” to turn away women whose shoulders were not covered.

Even more absurd was the behaviour of a brigade at the nearby Josina Machel Secondary School who turned away a woman wearing a headscarf. They told her that the only people allowed to register as voters while wearing a headscarf were Muslims.

Voter registration staff have no right to ask citizens what religion they follow, and many Mozambican women, regardless of their religion, wear brightly coloured headscarves.

These two cases fly in the face of instructions that all brigades should have received from the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE). Both registration posts concerned are about five minutes walk from the STAE headquarters in central Maputo.

The first highly publicised case of a brigade telling women what to wear occurred at the weekend, at the Polana Secondary School, when a would-be voter named Zita Costa was turned away because her shoulders were bare.

She took to social media to denounce this behaviour, and posted a photo of herself on Facebook showing that the dress she was wearing, although it left her shoulders uncovered, could in no way be described as improper, let alone indecent. Several other women responded to her posts, saying that they too had been turned away because brigade members disapproved of their clothes.

When this was brought to the attention of STAE general director Felisberto Naife, STAE issued a circular telling the brigades that they must register citizens regardless of their clothes.

Yet the abuses are continuing. When AIM contacted STAE spokesperson Claudio Langa on Wednesday morning, he insisted that STAE had indeed given instructions to all brigades not to turn away would-be voters because of what they were wearing. He promised that STAE would investigate the brigades at the National Physical Education Institute and the Josina Machel school.

Even worse were reports by the independent television station STV that brigades in Namicopo, a neighbourhood in the northern city of Nampula, are extorting money from people who try to register.

People who tried to register told STV “they said we must give them some Samoras” (i.e. money, so called because all Mozambican banknotes bear the portrait of the country's first President, Samora Machel).

Langa said that the STAE Nampula branch has instructions to go to the Namicopo registration posts and stop the extortion. “This is deplorable”, he told AIM. “Citizens don't have to pay anything to register”.

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