‘Lots of boys grow up thinking they’re superior to girls. They think that women are beneath them.’
Daniel Katino, 26, is a youth mentor with Together We’ll Triumph, a project for disadvantaged boys and young men in Angola’s capital city, Luanda.
The project is run by Christian Aid’s local partner, the Angolan Congregational Church (IECA). It works in the city’s two most violent boroughs, Cazenga and Viana. These are poor, crowded and often dangerous neighbourhoods, especially after dark.
Domestic violence is common here, as it is throughout the country. Within the last year, more than one in four women in Angola have been attacked by an intimate partner. 1
This level of abuse is an extreme symptom of the broader problem that Daniel highlights: the widely-held belief that women are less valuable than men.
This attitude drives behaviour at all levels of society: from child marriage to sexual harassment, from parents choosing not to educate their daughters to a husband beating his wife. You can’t change the behaviour without changing the beliefs behind it.
Faith groups have the reach and influence to transform harmful attitudes and behaviours, and this is exactly what Christian Aid and IECA set out to do through this project.
Together We’ll Triumph organises popular local events like football tournaments to reach out to teenage boys. It then works through youth mentors to promote positive behaviour, seeking to reduce violence at home and in the streets.
Mentors matter. The long civil war means that many boys have grown up in families without fathers, or with fathers who spent years fighting. Many men are quick to turn to violence to resolve family arguments, and their sons copy what they see.
‘Men feel that they have to be macho,’ Daniel explains. ‘You hear neighbours fighting every day, with the man saying, ‘You aren’t obeying me! I’m the man so I’m in charge.’
But Daniel and his colleagues – all themselves graduates of the project – are working to change this. Through a mixture of group activities, individual support and home visits which involve each boy’s wider family, the mentors challenge both the culture of violence and the belief that girls and women are inferior.
Ismael Pongololo Faria, 28, is another former student turned mentor. He describes how the project has transformed his attitude towards girls and women:
‘The way I see things has totally changed.,’ he explains. ‘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.’
Many students report similar shifts in understanding, but attitude is nothing without action. The real indicators of success lie in small changes in everyday behaviour: brothers and sons who take on their fair share of household tasks, and who behave respectfully to their sisters and mothers at home.
These immediate changes, important in themselves, can also set the course for long-term generational change, breaking the cycle of violence for good. After all, a brother who doesn’t beat his sister is less likely to grow into a man who beats his wife.
And while the washing up might not seem important, the question of domestic work is actually at the very heart of girls’ value and status within their family. All too often, girls are expected to work from dawn till dusk, while their brothers can study, play or rest.
‘That devalues women,’ explains Daniel, ‘and anything that devalues women has a very direct influence on domestic violence.’ He clarifies that when girls do all the housework in a family, it reinforces perceptions of their lowly role and subordinate status.
But with 60% of the project’s students now sharing household tasks like fetching water and washing up, those perceptions are changing. It’s a small but significant step towards equality, and away from violence.
‘We’re all equal, with equal rights,’ says Daniel, simply.
For many boys and their families, this realisation has the potential to transform their everyday lives, completely changing the framework for their family relationships.
By replacing oppression and aggression with respect and responsibility, the project offers these boys a different model of manhood. And their sisters and mothers, future wives and future daughters all stand to benefit too.
Together We’ll Triumph often delivers joint workshops and activities with the nearby Girls Building Bridges project, which is also supported by Christian Aid.