Among the 250 parliamentarians who took office on 13 January for the 9th Mozambican parliament, one deserves special mention.
She is Mércia Viriato Licá, 23 years old, the youngest deputy in the Republic of Mozambique’s history.
Because of a birth defect, she has no upper limbs. Typing on a phone, writing on paper, drinking water, using a computer — all this and a number of other activities that require hands and arms, she does with her feet. In 2019, she completed her law degree at Maputo's Pedagogical University.
Elected for Frelimo, the ruling party in Mozambique since independence in 1975, Mércia represents the constituency of Tete province. Her candidacy was proposed in 2019 by President Filipe Nyusi, who she met the previous year through Facebook. Nyusi then decided to surprise her with a visit to her home, from where he said he left impressed:
(…) sinceramente esta jovem surpreendeu-me. Ela faz tudo com os pés. Ela provou-me que não há barreiras que não se podem superar na vida.
(…) sincerely, this young lady surprised me. She does everything with her feet. She proved to me that there are no barriers in life that cannot be overcome.
Mércia was abandoned by her father as a baby and was raised by her mother, with whom she lives today. Despite her disability, she told President Nyusi that she feels no different from others. She recognizes having gone through difficulties but turned them into opportunities, she has told TV Surdo.
In some opinion circles, her story is seen as an example of overcoming. Her life was recently recounted by Voice of America in a report entitled “Mércia, from renegade girl to deputy”.
In an interview with Carta de Moçambique, held on her inauguration day as a parliamentarian, Mércia discussed how she intends to inspire young Mozambicans, who comprise the majority of the approximately 28 million people in the country:
Espero contribuir para o desenvolvimento do país na escolaridade e educação. Incentivar os jovens para que nunca deixem de estudar porque a educação é o caminho para a vida (…) acredito que, por estar aqui na casa magna, irei incentivar e inspirar muita gente pelas atividades que irei exercer durante o meu mandato. Acredito que quando as pessoas olharem para mim e verem que sou capaz, também se conseguirão levantar.
I hope to contribute to the development of the country in schooling and education. To encourage young people to never stop studying because education is the right path in life (…) I believe that by being here in the great chamber, I will encourage and inspire many people by the things I will do during my mandate. I believe that when people look at me and see that I am capable, they will also manage to take action.
Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado wrote on Twitter:
Marcia Castela, 24, a law graduate, is Mozambique's youngest MP. An important gain and inspiration for the youth and people with disabilities. She and 249 other MPs were inaugurated today, following October 2019 general elections. pic.twitter.com/I2XeInZy1c
— Zenaida Machado (@zenaidamz) January 13, 2020
Although in 2010 Mozambique ratified the International Convention for People with Disabilities, an agreement that advocates for the creation of better conditions for disabled people, their lives remain difficult in the country, as reported by the newspaper A Verdade.
Access to buildings and public transportation is usually not adapted for disabilities, in addition to discrimination faced in other contexts. Because of this, the Association of the Disabled of Mozambique calls for specific legislation that defends this population's rights.
Commenting on Machado's tweet, the British High Commissioner in Maputo, NneNne Iwuji-Eme, said that Mercia is an inspiration not only for people with disabilities, but for any young girl anywhere. “The world needs more young girls dreaming of being leaders and succeeding like you,” she said.
The activist Benilde Mourana says she is very happy with the appointment of Mércia and hopes that she will not be “just another parliamentarian”, but will contribute to people's real aspirations:
Fiquei feliz com a eleição da jovem Mércia, rapariga com deficiência para deputada da Assembleia da República, afinal a inclusão deve começar de algum lado. Espero que ela não seja mais uma deputada e sim aquela deputada que leva as reais preocupações das pessoas com deficiência para a magna casa. A Mércia sozinha não basta, que onda de inclusão se alastre para outros sectores chaves na área da deficiência (…)
I was happy with the election of the young Mercia, a disabled girl, as a parliamentarian, after all inclusion must start somewhere. I hope that she is not just another parliamentarian but the one who brings the real concerns of disabled people into the great chamber. Mercia alone is not enough, let the wave of disability inclusion spread to other key sectors (…)