Musician Stewart Sukuma calls for zero tolerance towards violence and sexual abuse against girls
Maputo province, November 2010 – The room was already full but more people were continuing to arrive. Seated, standing, crammed at the door, and wherever else there was space, dozens of voices came together in various tones to sing in chorus the best known compositions of Stewart Sukuma. This was the third in a series of concerts that the popular musician had scheduled in the urban areas and suburbs, so that nobody would be left out. And the audience seemed to swell all the time.
But suddenly, when least expected, Stewart interrupts the collective delirium, silencing at once all the instruments of the band. His voice then echoed firmly through the room, with a speech that surprised everybody.
“I’m happy to see that we’re all having fun here. But when we go home, we also have our responsibilities”, he said, gazing at each of those present. They were all soothed by the music they had just heard, whispering praises and comment on the performance of the singer and the band, and about the message of the songs sung in the various local languages of Mozambique’s different provinces.
“In our country, girls are still subject to violence and sexual abuse at home, in schools, in the communities, which is a disgrace for all of us!” declared Stewart with a desolate expression. “Do we all know what the consequences are for girls?”
The audience fell suddenly silent, still trying to understand why this subject had been brought up here and at this time. The doubt only lasted a few seconds, because immediately the microphone was in demand as several people wanted to speak about the issue. Without knowing who to choose – since there were so many requests – Stewart eventually allowed an insistent girl sitting in front of him to speak.
“Violence and sexual abuse against women can cause physical and psychological traumas, early pregnancies, transmission of HIV and…” she was saying, as her voice was drowned in a noisy round of applause from the audience, who agreed with her response.
The debate continued, with youths and adults each putting forward their arguments. But the conclusion at the end was unequivocal: violence and sexual abuse against girls should be prevented at all cost, and zero tolerance should be shown to such behaviour!
And music again filled the crowded room with joy and dance. This has been one of the means used by Stewart Sukuma to make his many fans aware of violence against women. He believes the pledge against violence should be taken by everyone.
“Artists and public figures have great influence on society, and this should be made use of in order to promote behaviour change. Our role is fundamental in this regard”, says Stewart categorically.
He raises awareness not only in the shows he gives, but through all the channels available to him such as the Facebook, Myspace and other internet blogs – he estimates that, taken as a whole, these reach more than 10,000 admirers and friends, who are virtually interlinked – and in the public interventions to which he has been invited.
Violence and sexual abuse against girls are phenomena of increasing concern in the country. A study held by the Ministry of Education in 2008 found that about 70 per cent of pupils said there were teachers who made passing from one grade to the next for girl pupils conditional on having sex with them. Half of the girls said that sexual abuse is also committed by male pupils. But it is not only in schools where girls can be vulnerable.
In 2009, more than 3,500 cases of violence against children – including sexual abuse – were reported to the police. However, the real number is probably much larger because tolerance from society has inhibited people from blowing the whistle on abusers, thus making it difficult to fight against this crime.
As part of the response, the Government and several partners, with the technical support of UNICEF, have been mobilising for a massive communication campaign to promote a culture of zero tolerance for violence and sexual abuse against girls in Mozambique. Several training actions have been held with media professionals and activists, and the message dissemination is already being scaled up through radio and television programmes, multimedia mobile units and community theatre. There is no time to lose!
“I hope that all artists, the press, teachers, parents, the communities, all of us join together to bring an end to violence and the sexual abuse of girls. We have to act now!” stresses Stewart Sukuma.
Since the beginning of this year, Stewart Sukuma has been collaborating formally with UNICEF in awareness initiatives and in mobilising other artists, private sector partners, and society in general to achieve the rights of children in Mozambique.