After decades of fighting, Angola’s devastating civil war finally ended in 2002. But societal and structural violence remains rife, with pervasive gender-based violence and widespread human rights abuses, especially towards children. In both urban and rural areas, there is recurrent conflict over land.
Christian Aid Angola contributes to building a just, lasting peace by working hand-in-hand with others, especially two kinds of organisations that play vital, complementary roles in transforming unjust power relations.
Faith-based organisations have the reach, credibility and influence to effectively challenge harmful norms, mostly by transforming attitudes and behaviour.
Human rights organisations focus on empowering citizens to understand and claim their rights, and on denouncing human rights abuses when they happen, strengthening much-needed boundaries.
In both fields, women play leading roles.
To mark International Day of Peace, four women from four Christian Aid partner organisations talk about the skills and knowledge that women bring to building peace in Angola. The work of all four partners is supported by Irish Aid.
Revd. Deolinda Teca is General Secretary of the Angolan Council of Churches, CICA. She has spearheaded the establishment of ‘peace clubs’ in churches and schools across the country, bringing people together to resolve local and familial conflicts.
'Women by nature are sociable and ‘maternal’. They welcome, accompany and advise others, they manage the family and a lot more besides. We are professional peacebuilders – kind, welcoming and tolerant.'
'Women leaders in the Church are inclusive, sensitive and analytical; they look into the details of the problem in order to resolve it. They often settle inter-denominational conflicts, and they’re always keen to learn.
'Women tend to decentralise and delegate power and responsibilities. When you are in a position of leadership, it's important to encourage and empower others so that when you leave, the work can continue without you.'
Lucia da Silveira is an award-winning human rights defender, and President of the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy, AJPD. Lucia leads AJPD’s efforts to build capacity among local and national human rights defenders, especially those from marginalised communities. There is a particular focus on providing training, advocacy and legal support for those defending land and housing rights.
'It’s important that this is recognised, and that peace processes are more inclusive.
'Women know the problems that women face, in organisations and in communities.
'They are more tuned in to dynamics, to people, to managing capacity – a way of running things that enables people to work in the areas where they can contribute most and contribute best... with women’s leadership there tends to be more participation – everyone is heard.'
Sandra Domingas Bongue is a community development officer with the Chiange Gambos Network. She champions women’s rights among remote pastoralist communities, where polygamy is common. As well as working to reduce violence and discrimination, the Network supports these semi-nomadic communities to secure their economic, social and cultural rights, particularly access to land and water.
'We can help women to have peace, to rise up from the bottom, to become leaders themselves one day if they want to... this will bring conflict with boys and men, who think they only need say the word and the woman should obey.'
'In the communities, when I try to explain to the men what they’re losing by treating women badly or discriminating against them, they say that I know nothing; one of the older male leaders sees me as a problem – someone who wants to devalue tradition.
'But by communicating well and knowing how to influence, we can make them understand that the goal is that women too should be whoever they are capable of being, and that this is better for everyone.'
Benedita Fuani is a volunteer mentor with the Girls Building Bridges project in the capital Luanda. The project, run by the Christian Women’s Union, delivers a ‘competencies for life’ curriculum for teenage girls in poor suburbs, which have particularly high rates of sexual violence. The programme empowers girls to become change-makers in their communities, while achieving their own life goals. Benedita herself is a graduate.
'There were things we didn’t discuss at home, and also not at school, it was taboo. But there we spoke about them.
'Underage sex and pregnancy is the biggest danger for young girls here. There is a lack of information. There is pressure to have sex and there’s also sexual abuse and harassment at school.
'Many girls don't know that they’re being abused – they think they’re being praised, so they don't report it. They’re all muddled up because don't understand the difference between abuse and praise.'