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“No sleeping with those in charge, no food.”: Gender-Based Violence Among Internally Displaced Persons in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

source: © UN Mozambique/Helvisney Cardoso

“No sleeping with those in charge, no food.”: Gender-Based Violence Among Internally Displaced Persons in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

Topic: Women’s Rights 
: Africa
Laura Hochheim Thomé

Team Women’s Rights Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence.


The colonial period imposed undeniable political, economic, and social instability, leaving a substantial and profound gap in the development of nations. Mozambique’s declaration of independence from the Portuguese colony in 1975 did not result in improvements for the population, and the country continues to struggle with internal conflicts and the countless consequences of colonialism to this day. Since 2017, Cabo Delgado Province, in the north of Mozambique, has been an arena of armed conflict, which has generated a humanitarian crisis with more than 800,000 people displaced. The situation has aggravated the phenomenon of violence against women, who are the main victims of different types of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological, and structural. This article aims to address the conflict in Cabo Delgado by raising awareness of the human rights crisis, especially for women and girls. 

Cabo Delgado Conflict and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The first armed attack in Cabo Delgado occurred in 2017 in the district of Mocímboa de Praia. On October 5, 2017, more than 30 armed men invaded the district and attacked three police stations simultaneously (Lutxeque, 2017). Since then and up until October 2020, the Islamic extremist insurgency groups carried out more than 600 terrorist attacks in the northern and central districts of Cabo Delgado province, with greater severity in the districts of Mocímboa da Praia, Palma, Muidumbi, Nangade, Macomia, Quissanga, Meluco, Ibo and Mueda (Republica de Moçambique, 2021), causing around 2000 deaths among the population, of which more than 60 percent were civilians (Centro de Integridade Pública, 2020). 


Cabo Delgado has one of the worst healthcare, educational, and basic sanitation systems in the country. In addition, unemployment and illiteracy rates among the population are high, and the region is especially vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones, droughts, floods, and earthquakes. Consequently, civilians have been dealing with a sense of dissatisfaction, marginalisation, and high levels of multidimensional poverty, all of which have been made worse by internal conflicts (Filomeno, 2022). 


Overall, social, political, ethnic, and religious wounds, negligence, exploitation, and government corruption influenced the emergence of extremist groups and conflicts, particularly among the youth (Filomeno, 2022). Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic enhanced the already precarious access to education, which could compromise the socio-professional integration of an entire generation, worsen the poverty phenomenon, and potentially increase the adhesion of young people to violent and radical groups (Feijó et al, 2022). 


As a result of the situation in Cabo Delgado being aggravated throughout the years, over 800.000 million people have been internally displaced because of terrorist actions, having sought refuge in safer areas in the south of Cabo Delgado province and in other provinces such as Nampula and Niassa (Republica de Moçambique, 2021). Today, over 1.1 million people have been internally displaced in Mozambique (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2023), and around 1.4 percent of the country’s population is currently displaced (Centro De Integridade Pública, 2020). Even though the majority of internally displaced people are due to the actions of armed groups in Cabo Delgado, it is important to mention that the country is also disproportionately affected by climate change. The 2019 Idai and Kenneth cyclones also resulted in a large proportion of IDPs in the country.


Aiming to reverse the humanitarian crisis, the government of Mozambique approved two plans in 2021 involving the province of Cabo Delgado: the “Política e Estratégia de Gestão de Deslocados Internos (Internal Displacement Management Policy and Strategy) and the “Plano De Reconstrução De Cabo Delgado Das Zonas Afectadas Pelo Terrorismo (2021-2024)” (Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan of Terrorist-Affected Areas (2021-2024). The first plan encompasses policies and management strategies aimed at reducing and solving problems related to internally displaced people due to conflicts and natural disasters through appropriate prevention, assistance and socioeconomic reintegration actions (Lusa, 2021). The second plan seeks to restructure the region based on three areas of focus: humanitarian assistance, recovery of infrastructure and support for economic activity. Furthermore, the government also adopted the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention), which is an important regional document for the protection of IDPs (Filomeno, 2022).

Among the displaced, the majority are women and young people. The Displacement Monitoring Matrix (DTM) of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) carried out Multi-Sectoral Site Assessments (MSLA) in 53 sites hosting internally displaced people in Cabo Delgado in 2021. The research revealed that 54 percent of IDPs are female and 46 percent are male, and 52 percent of the displaced population is under 18 years old. 

Gender-Based Violence in Conflict Settings 

The humanitarian crisis situation is visible, and women in Cabo Delgado are experiencing daily situations of sexual abuse. There have been numerous reports of abductions of young women and sexual violations, including practises of rape against local women. During periods of war, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a common violation faced by civilians as well as IDPs, particularly women and girls, as well as men and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) populations (D’odorico et al, 2021), and Cabo Delgado is no exception. 

These phenomena of violence deserve to be understood in the framework of a predominantly patriarchal culture, marked by male domination, responsible for the social construction of the woman (by many guerrillas) as submissive to her husband or as a sexual object whose function is to serve the man (Feijó, 2021, pg.6)


Gender-based violence in all its forms “is not just an accident of war, but often a systematic military strategy” (Tickner, 2001, p. 50) and a weapon of war. The reports in Cabo Delgado demonstrate that GBV has been a key component of the conflict (D’odorico et al 2021).


When it comes to mechanisms to address and prevent these acts of violence from occurring in a conflict setting, the international community has been working towards them for over a decade. In addition to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other human rights treaties, the Security Council resolution plays an important role. The Security Council resolution 1820 (2008) was the first to focus on sexual assault in conflict conditions, where the Council condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an impediment to peacebuilding (UN, n.d.). After 2008, several resolutions regarding the subject were adopted. In particular, Resolution 2242 (2015) was the one that indicated that acts of sexual and gender-based violence can be used as a tactic of terrorism. Resolution 2331 (2016) established the nexus between trafficking in persons and conflict-related sexual violence. Additionally, Resolution 2467 (2019) urges the adoption of a survivor-centred approach to address sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations (OHCHR, n.d.).

Gender-Based Violence in Cabo Delgado 

As outlined above, the crisis in the north of Mozambique exacerbated multiple forms of GBV, including intimate partner violence (IPV), physical and sexual violence, abduction, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse (EAS), early and forced marriages, and economic violence (D’odorico et al, 2021). Particularly, this situation seems to be intensified and widespread in IDP settlement centres and host community areas where the displaced population seeks protection.

According to a news report by DW in November 2022, the Public Prosecutor’s Office had already registered around 25 cases of violence and abuse, where the accused were, in the majority, employees of civil society organisations and local authorities (DW, 2022). Those who are supposedly in charge of protection are those who expose women and girls to physical and sexual violence and harassment. In many cases, the lack of access to food and supplies is another factor that leads to the sexual abuse of women in Cabo Delgado. These situations are often not reported for fear of retaliation and being deprived of food assistance (Silva, 2023).

Another driver for GBV is the crisis-related rise in socioeconomic vulnerability. In situations where the family is experiencing food insecurity and housing instability, and has lost their livelihoods due to conflicts, forced marriage is seen as a solution. Families often consider child marriage as a means of overcoming economic hardship, which results in exposing girls to deleterious consequences for their health, well-being, and rights (D’odorico et al, 2021). Justice administration bodies in Cabo Delgado are concerned about the prevalence of premature unions, in addition to other forms of gender-based violence (Anacleto, 2023). 

Furthermore, the prostitution of displaced women and girls is also a recurring situation. Displaced girls in Cabo Delgado, aged between 12 and 17, engage in prostitution as a last resource to survive extreme poverty (Silva, 2023) and often exchange sex for food assistance and other resources, exposing them to the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections like HIV. A delegation from Doctors Without Borders visited the Macomia district in February 2021 and revealed that the community had a high rate of sexually transmitted infections (Feijó, 2021).

According to another news report by DW in 2023, hundreds of cases of violence against women and girls undergo medical treatment in the hospitals of Cabo Delgado. The nurse, Argentina Ismael, told the newspaper that at least 30 cases of physical, psychological and sexual violence are registered in the hospital every month. However, after medical care, the majority of the cases are not reported to the justice system (Anacleto, 2023).Victims in Cabo Delgado face a lack of protection and other essential support services for GBV survivors. The institutions weakened by the conflict are unable to provide multi-dimensional assistance services, which include health care, social services, security support (including safe shelters and safe spaces for women and girls), and access to justice and protection. (D’odorico et al, 2021)


During conflicts with intense human rights violations, the population faces a lack of access to justice. As previously stated, in Cabo Delgado, access to crucial support for GBV survivors is severely limited. The cycles of violence perpetrated during armed conflicts will continue in the post-conflict period, and reversing this situation will be a challenge. (D’odorico et al 2021).

In order to adequately support and assist women impacted by the conflict, local groups and the government must provide adequate services with a gender-sensitive perspective that takes into account the distinctions between the violence experienced by men and women. This includes access to health care, social services, security support, especially in relation to safe shelters and safe spaces for women and girls, and access to justice (D’odorico et al, 2021). Other recommendations by D’odorico et al (2021) include increasing community engagement, integrating GBV survivors into economic empowerment models, seeking urgent funding to increase the provision of GBV response services, and coordinating GBV prevention programmes between the government, NGOs, and the community.

In the latest Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Report Of The United Nations Secretary-General, some recommendations were made to Member States, donors, and Regional And Intergovernmental organisations. It is urgent to adopt a survivor-centred approach and ensure that the next generation of national action plans and laws regarding women, peace, and security incorporate budgetary and operational provisions relating to the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence, as well as, providing an environment where victims can seek support, including sexual and reproductive care, access to emergency contraception, safe abortion care, and psychosocial and legal services. Focusing on post-conflict integration is also key to overcoming conflict-related sexual violence. The report recommends building community resilience and ensuring that sure women and victims have access to employment and socioeconomic reintegration (United Nations, 2022).

References and further reading 

Anacleto, D. (2023). Silenciamento de crimes contra mulheres em Cabo Delgado. DW. Retrieved June 14, 2023, from 

Centro de Integridade Pública. (2020). Número de deslocados internos em Moçambique cresceu em cerca de 2700% em dois anos. Retrieved June 12, 2023, from  

D’Odorico, G., Hossain, M., Jamal, E., Scarpassa do Prado, D., Roberts, C., & Palmer, J (2021). Uma Avaliação Rápida Da Situação E Da Resposta À Violência Baseada No Género (Vbg) E A Resposta Em Cabo Delgado, Moçambique. Retrieved June 12, 2023, from

Cresce o abuso sexual contra refugiadas em Cabo Delgado. DW. Retrieved June 12, 2023 from 

Feijó. (2021). The Role of Women in Conflict in Cabo Delgado: Understanding Vicious Cycles of Violence. Retrieved June 12, 2023 from 

Feijó, J., Maquenzi, J., Salite, D., & Kirshner, J. (2022). Caracterização Das Condições Socioeconómicas Dos Deslocados Internos No Norte De Moçambique Ao Longo Do Ano De 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2023 from 

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. (2023). Country profile: Mozambique. Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Retrieved June 14, 2023, from 

International Organization for Migration (IOM). (2021). DTM Crise do Norte de Moçambique – Relatório de Avaliação de Localização Multi-Setorial 5. IOM. Retrieved June 14, 2023, from Lusa. (2021). 

Moçambique aprova política e estratégia para deslocados. DW.  Retrieved June 14, 2023, from Lutxeque, S. (2017).

Tumultos e ataques no norte de Moçambique. DW. Retrieved June 14, 2023, from 

OHCHR. (n.d). Women’s human rights and gender-related concerns in situations of conflict and instability. OHCHR. Retrieved on June 19, 2023, from  República de Moçambique (2021). 

Plano De Reconstrução De Cabo Delgado Das Zonas Afectadas Pelo Terrorismo (2021-2024) PRCD. Retrieved on June 19, 2023, from 

Russo Filomeno, F. (2022). 

O acolhimento aos deslocados internos pelo conflito de Cabo Delgado. Retrieved June 14, 2023, from Silva, R. (2023). 

CIP denuncia exploração sexual de mulheres deslocadas. Retrieved June 12, 2023 from  Tickner, J. Ann. (2001) 

Gendering world politics: Issues and approaches in the post-Cold War era. Columbia University Press. United Nations (2022). Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Report Of The United Nations Secretary-General. UN. Retrieved June 20, 2023 from 

UN (n.d). International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, 19 June. UN. Retrieved on June 19, 2023 from 

UN Security Council, Resolution 1820 (2008). Retrieved June 20, 2023, from 

UN Security Council, Resolution 2242 (2015). Retrieved June 20, 2023, from 

UN Security Council, Resolution 2331 (2016). Retrieved June 20, 2023, from 

UN Security Council, Resolution 2467 (2019). Retrieved June 20, 2023, from

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