Angolan Women Mobilize to Shake the Status Quo

A group of young women in Angola is building a new feminist network to address issues such as gender-based violence and reproductive rights. In a country where the number of sexual assaults is alarmingly high, this type of initiative is sorely needed.

Ondjango Feminista officially started in June 2016 with just eight participants but the Angolan feminist platform has already grown to include over 60 members. Every month, they gather to discuss topics related to women’s place in Angolan society and come up with strategies to address injustice.

In a recent interview with Rede Angola, founders Sizaltina Cutaia and Âurea Mouzinho emphasized the role that activist groups like Ondjango Feminista can play in deconstructing gender norms that are at the root of violence against women and girls. While the 2011 law on domestic violence was a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. Cutaia and Mouzinho believe legal interventions can only have a limited impact given the lack of resources available on the ground for enforcement. Thus, the group mainly focuses on education and mutual support.

Education and solidarity

Feminists in Angola come up against a lot of criticism from all segments of society as they take on patriarchal structures. Politicians invoke tradition and religious values to justify the unfair treatment of women, media accounts of sexual violence often question the victim’s choice of dress, feminists are portrayed as frustrated man-haters taking their lead from the West, and the list goes on.

Despite this prejudice, some women choose to speak up and share their experiences in person and on social media. On the YouTube channel Mulheres Direitos Participação (Women Rights Participation), Angolan feminists reach out through videos uploads of friendly discussions on various topics including media representation, reproductive rights, African feminism and cultural traditions.

They hope that in time, more books and articles on feminist issues will be translated into Portuguese, Angola’s official language, but also that Angolan women themselves will continue to produce knowledge about their particular context. This movement of community education is central to Ondjango Feminista’s mission. Flora Telo, an active member of the group who is currently pursuing a PhD in the field of Women, Gender and Feminism, has taken up the task of disseminating feminist knowledge. She uses her blog to share analyses of academic texts as well as highlight the role of Angolan women in social movements.

As theory and practice obviously go hand in hand, meetings are also an occasion to foster solidarity among women who face various difficulties in their personal and professional lives.

A long history of women’s resistance

This new generation of feminist activists stands on the shoulders of the many women who have come before them. Though they may not always claim the ‘feminist’ label, Angolan women have been pushing back against the status quo limiting their opportunities.

Sometimes, it is through everyday acts of resistance in the domestic context that they express their individual agency. But Angola also has a tradition of women’s movements that played an important role both in the liberation war against Portuguese colonization and in the peacebuilding process. The women’s wings of the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the Independent League for Angolan Women (LIMA), joined later by Rede Mulher and Women, Peace and Development (MPD) advocated for women’s rights and refused to be ignored by the political establishment.

Using online tools to create a community under the Ondjango banner, young Angolan feminists are curating valuable discussions that deserve attention well beyond Luanda.

Photo: Paula Agostinho on Ondjango Feminista’s Facebook page.

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