“Passive Women”: Uncovering the story of Josina Machel and the Mozambique Liberation Front

29 March 2018

Gender and Sexuality | War and Conflict

Whilst looking through the Gender: Identity and Social Change resource, I was drawn to a document titled Revolutionary Women by Josina Machel. 

Machel was a revolutionary fighter for the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). In Revolutionary Women, Machel discusses the significant role of women in The Mozambique War of Independence (September 25th 1964- September 8th 1974) and addresses the social barriers and prejudices she and thousands of other women had to overcome in their fight for liberation. 


Image © Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.  Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

In October 1966, in a meeting of the Central Committee, it was agreed that women should take an active role in their country’s fight for national liberation and independence from Portuguese colonial rule. FRELIMO encouraged women to participate in both political and military training, and in early 1967 the first group of women from Cabo Delgado and Niassa began their training. Breaking through strong social barriers and the traditional perceptions of women as wives and mothers, they soon ‘proved themselves [to be] as capable and courageous as any of their male comrades.’ These women became the founding members of the Women’s Detachment, whilst Machel herself is credited as being the driving force and vision behind this group of revolutionary women.

Alongside its military and political functions, the Women’s Detachment also had important duties in the fields of education and social welfare. Machel identified the desperate need to help and provide comfort to those affected by the war’s brutalities. They provided support to the families of those killed in the war, first aid to those who were injured and ran the FRELIMO orphanage. Women were also given the opportunity to study and many worked in local schools educating students about the war and the work of FRELIMO. Once again, these women had to overthrow the traditional customs and beliefs held by Mozambican society. However, Machel writes, ‘we are gradually winning the battle for they realise that a literate and educated woman can make a far more constructive contribution to the revolution than an ignorant one.’

The words of student Maria Njanje.
The words of student Maria Njanje. Image © Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

FRELIMO and the Women’s Detachment played a pioneering role in both the fight for national liberation and the emancipation of women in Mozambique.

Mozambique finally won their fight for independence on June 25th, 1975.

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About the Author

Megan Kamei

Megan Kamei

I joined the Adam Matthew Editorial team in January 2018 as a Copyright and Permissions Assistant. My academic background lies in English literature and I am particularly interested in gender studies.