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POLITICS-ANGOLA: Ambitious Plans For Women's Participation

Louise Redvers

LUANDA, Aug 13 2008 (IPS) - Nearly a third of candidates in Angola's upcoming parliamentary elections are female, thanks to a new quota imposed by the government. The 30 percent rule was designed to bring more women into the country's parliament, but as campaigning gets under way, women continue to stay in Angola's political shadows, barely visible at rallies and with few holding senior party positions.

Clarisse Kaputu believes men are ready to listen to female politicians. Credit:  Loiuse Redvers/IPS

Clarisse Kaputu believes men are ready to listen to female politicians. Credit: Loiuse Redvers/IPS

And according to Luanda-based sociologist and gender expert Henda Ducados, there is a danger introducing such a strong quota could backfire.

"This is very progressive and the government is trying to raise the number of women in parliament, but I think the biggest challenge will be whether the quantity can be matched with quality," she explained.

"When you bring in this many new candidates onto a list, you are going to get people who are very new to the process and who may lack experience."

But she applauded the government for its attempt to engage women and said the country also had an impressive gender equality plan, albeit still to be ratified, and good work was being done by the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and the Family.

However Ducados added that the real challenge for getting women involved in Angolan politics would come at a municipal and local level.

Currently local politicians are not elected, but after the legislative election in September – the first in 16 years – and the presidential poll planned for 2009, there is hope for elections at municipal level.

Ducados believes when women can be elected by local people to serve locally, then there will be a big difference.

UNITA candidate Clarisse Kaputu believes things are changing slowly for female politians in Angola.

"We are starting to change things," she said. "During many years of war, the soldiers were in control, everything was militarised, and men were very much in control.

"For a long time men did the work while women stayed at home and did the domestic work. Very little importance was given to women. And during the war women had little chance of education.

"But also during this time, women started to think about things they could do to stop the war and they started to talk about peace.

"Mothers saw their sons taking part in the war and saw some not coming home and those that did were traumatised and mutilated. And this moved women to do things to bring about peace."

Kaputu was herself part of this peace movement as part of the Angolan NGO Women and Peace.

She said: "Women are participating more because they know they need to fight for the keeping of peace. Angola has as lot of women living here, more women than men, and women are very much involved in the communication in communities and the point of view held by people.

"I think men are ready to start listening to women. I think this country is prepared for the participation of women.

"The war was a very sad memory and no-one wants a repetition of that. Angola and society doesn't want to repeat the war."

Kaputu cited health and education as the main issues where women voters wanted action.

She said Angola's high level of maternal and child mortality was of great concern, along with the high death rate from malaria and the lack of information and education about AIDS.

On education she said: "This is fundamental. A lot of children are not getting an education because of a lack of schools and a lack of money, this is a very big preoccupation for mothers.

"Often you have children finishing high school and they have no chance of entering university and they can't get jobs. And when they can't get jobs, they become a huge burden to their families because without education and a job they can't do anything."

In relation to next month's election though, women continue to be noticeable in their absence at campaign events.

The ruling MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) has its own women's section – the OMA (Organizacao da Mulher Angolana). Its leader Luzia Ingles is busy touring the country addressing the female party faithful.

But on the whole, campaigning tends to be male-dominated, often fuelled by beer and with a boisterous party attitude.

The official campaign kicked off a week ago and traffic in Luanda regularly comes to a standstill as processions of young men in motorbikes or cadongueiros (the local minibus taxis) pass by at slow speed, hooting horns and waving flags.

Perhaps it's no surprise there are few women involved in such stunts.

"Who has time for this type of thing?" Ducados asked. "Women have jobs and if not, young children to look after. I think that is one explanation why these events during the day tend to be dominated by young men."

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