In the most violent neighbourhoods of Angola’s capital Luanda, two complementary projects – one for girls, one for boys – are working to reduce violence, especially gender-based violence, and to build peace.
The average Angolan is just 16 years old, born as the long civil war finally ended. Today’s teenagers are the first in the country’s history to have grown up with no direct experience of warfare. But violence is still rife in homes and communities. Domestic violence was only outlawed in 2011 and remains endemic. Sexual violence, in homes and schools, is widespread. Deep-rooted, harmful gender norms are exacerbated by the macho legacy of war.
Angola’s burgeoning young population could play a key role in building a more peaceful and positive society, and adolescence offers a critical window to influence attitudes and behaviour.
Two projects for double the impact
Funded by the Church of Ireland Bishop’s Appeal and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Christian Aid supports two projects for young people in Luanda. Both started out in Cazenga, an impoverished, densely-populated borough known for its high levels of domestic, sexual and street violence.
The girls’ project, Girls Building Bridges, is run by the Women’s Christian Union (UCF / YWCA), while the boys’ project, Together We’ll Triumph, is run by the Angolan Congregational Church (IECA). The projects work through youth mentors to promote positive behaviour and healthy relationships, and to empower their young charges to become catalysts for change among their wider families and communities.
With the boys, the focus is on positive masculinity: shifting perspectives on gender roles, and improving communication and conflict resolution skills. The girls’ project works to prevent early marriage and early motherhood, which are themselves a key driver of inequality and violence. It increases girls’ awareness of their rights and life goals, and develops their capacity and confidence to secure both.
In 2019 alone, these projects enrolled almost 500 young people between them and often they come together for joint activities and events. Here four youth mentors, all themselves former students with their respective projects, talk about their efforts to challenge the inequality and attitudes that lead to gender-based violence.
Daniel Duvila Katino, 26
‘Lots of boys grow up thinking that they’re superior to girls. They think women are beneath them.
‘Men feel that they have to be macho. You hear neighbours fighting every day. The man says ‘You’re not obeying me! I’m the man so I’m in charge.’
‘Anything that devalues women has a very direct influence on domestic violence."
Through all the awareness sessions, debates and workshops that we do, the boys start to understand that looking down on women isn’t right.
‘We go into the boys’ homes, chat with the parents, help them understand that reality is different to the cultural stereotypes. We’re all equal, with equal rights.’
Lots of boys grow up thinking that they're superior to girls.
- Daniel Duvila Katino, Credit: Together We'll Triumph project.
Flavia Levo Dikizeko, 27
‘I suffered violence at the hands of my older brothers, but they didn’t realise they were being violent. They thought that hitting me was a way of teaching me… I got used to being afraid.
‘That was when I was smaller, before I joined the Girls Building Bridges programme. After being on that programme I started to stand up for myself and claim my rights.
‘At UCF I learned to have self-esteem and self-confidence. I’m a calm, quiet person but I’m able to express myself, UCF taught me that. I know how to communicate my ideas. Even if I’m trembling, I will speak. At church, they know me as the ‘lady of rights’, the feminist, because I defend women’s rights.’
Even if I'm trembling, I will speak.
- Flavia Levo Dikizeko, Credit: Christian Aid, Elizabeth Levitz.
Ismael Pongolola Faria, 28
‘The way I see things has totally changed. I used to have prejudices about the difference between girls and boys, then I began to see things differently. I learned to have more respect and the way I interacted with girls changed. I grew up.
‘The most common conflicts we see are those between brothers and sisters. The boys do nothing at home and try to avoid doing their bit. They think, ‘that’s girls’ work, I can just sit here and watch.’
‘Through our discussions, the boys learn about coexistence, gender equality, domestic violence and human rights. They start respecting women and helping with domestic tasks.’
The most common conflicts we see are those between brother and sisters.
- Ismael Pongolola Faria, Credit: Christian Aid, Elizabeth Levitz.
Benedita Fuani, 23
‘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 girls here. There’s a lack of information. There’s pressure to have sex and there’s also sexual abuse and harassment in schools."
‘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 they don’t understand the difference between abuse and praise.
‘When girls know their rights they’re able to defend themselves. They complain. They know there’s a law that protects them and they denounce this violence in schools. Abusive teachers are suspended.’
When girls know their rights, they're able to defend themselves.
- Benedita Fuani, Credit: Christian Aid, Elizabeth Levitz.