Photo above: Miners' widow Nélia Mucavele from Maputo

'My husband was a miner in South Africa. Since his death in a tragic accident in 2007, I’ve been the breadwinner. It wasn’t easy in the first years to earn enough money to support my family. Most days we ate only two meals, and pretty much the same thing every day. And I was often unable to buy school supplies for my kids.'

Nélia Mucavele, a 45-year-old woman in the Mozambican capital Maputo, is one of southern Africa’s many miners’ widows. There are about 20,000 labour migrants from Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland who spend their entire lives working in the South African mines. Many of them die from tuberculosis, AIDS or accidents, leaving their families penniless. Tuberculosis and AIDS are especially serious problems: southern African labour migrants have the world’s highest tuberculosis rates, while 75% of South Africa’s HIV-positive miners don’t even know that they’re infected. As a result they often infect family or other community members when they return home.

Entrepreneurship and economic independence

‘The Partnership on Health and Mobility in the Mining Sector of Southern Africa has a four-year HIV/AIDS programme that helps widows like Nélia,’ says Monique Kamphuis, a policy adviser on healthcare and HIV/AIDS at the Dutch embassy in Maputo.

‘The Netherlands is funding the programme because it’s an excellent match with our policy priority on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has earmarked €125 million over the past few years for projects that help fight the spread of infections like HIV/AIDS.'

'In southern Africa we’re going a step further. On the one hand, the Partnership promotes better access to healthcare and HIV/AIDS prevention and raises health awareness. But the economic support we give the miners’ widows is just as important. We give them a chance to earn money themselves. This enhances their entrepreneurship and economic independence. With this form of development aid, the Netherlands is giving people opportunities to raise their income and helping to make national economies stronger. This is ultimately in our own interests. In the end, the prosperity, peace and security of the Netherlands depends on the prosperity, peace and security of other countries.'

Raising awareness

Caroline Wheatley, a former health and migration consultant at the International Organization for Migration, coordinated aid to migrant miners. ‘Because they’re constantly travelling back and forth between the country where they live and the country where they work, these miners have only limited access to healthcare,’ she explains. 'The Partnership wants to improve their health and reduce the number of people with HIV/AIDS. So for example, it posts staff for days at a time at the border between Mozambique and South Africa to inform miners about risks of infection. It also organises information fairs and medical check-ups in local communities and schools. People need to get into the routine of getting tested and getting treated for HIV/AIDS. But there’s still a long way to go.'

'I took several courses to become a better entrepreneur. They taught me how to make a business plan, how to manage a small business and how to deal with the bank. Now I’m running my own successful shop in Maputo. People can make phone calls there, and I also sell groceries and toiletries. Thanks to my shop I can give my family a better life – at last!

Building a good life

Nélia Mucavele’s above quote illustrates perfectly how central enhancing mine widows’ entrepreneurship is to the four-year programme. ‘We want to help women like Nélia build a good life,’ says Rute Muchine dos Santos, Health and HIV/AIDS Programme Manager for Voluntary Service Overseas. ‘One way we help is by teaching them to run their own small business, ranging from a hair salon to a call shop. This allows them to earn enough for the basics and to live healthier lives. We also teach widows how they should treat people with HIV/AIDS, so they can act as change agents and raise awareness in their communities. For example, they can promote condom use. The programme ended in 2016, but the knowledge these women acquire will endure into the future.’

Three meals a day

Ms Mucavele confirms that the programme has had major benefits for her. ‘I’m a different person now,’ she says. ‘I used to be shy, but now I’m a high-powered businesswoman. And I can help other people in my community live healthier lives. My life and my family’s lives have changed enormously. For example, we eat three meals a day now. And I can buy clothes and books for my kids in school. Recently I even opened a second shop for my son, so he has an income of his own.’

Standing up for sexual and reproductive health and rights

In many developing countries, young people’s sexuality and homosexuality are taboo subjects. Many people have no access to contraceptives or anti-retroviral drugs. Many women give birth without professional help. Unwanted pregnancies (particularly among teenage girls), maternal mortality and HIV infection are also major problems. The Netherlands wants to help combat these problems – not only because this benefits those directly affected, but also because it contributes to social and economic progress in developing countries.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs works on issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) together with Dutch civil society organisations like the AIDS Fund, Cordaid, Rutgers, Save the Children, Stichting Kinderpostzegels and Terre des Hommes. The Ministry’s SRHR Partnership Fund, which has a budget of €215 million, will focus from 2016 to 2020 on social projects involving young people and sexual and reproductive rights.