Role of Women and Children

Role of Women and Children

Almost no research existed on the role of women and children in Angolan society in the late 1980s, but a few generalities could be drawn. In rural Angola, as in many African economies, most of the population engaged in agricultural activities. Women performed much of the agricultural labor, as did children of both sexes. Marriage generally involved family, political, and economic interests as well as personal considerations. The household was the most important unit of production and was usually composed of several generations. The women grew and prepared most of the food for the household and performed all other domestic work. Because of their major role in food production, women shared relatively equal status with men, who spent much of their time hunting or tending cattle.

Many women and children belonged to two mass organizations: the Organization of Angolan Women (Organização da Mulher Angolana--OMA) and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Youth Movement (Juventude do Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola -- JMPLA). Before independence, the OMA and JMPLA were instrumental in mobilizing political support for the MPLA among thousands of Angolan refugees. After independence, and especially after the creation of the MPLA-PT in 1977, the mass organizations came under the strict control of the party and were given the role of intermediaries between the MPLA-PT and the population.

In 1987 the OMA had a membership of 1.3 million women, most of whom lived in rural areas. Among the many contributions of OMA's members were the establishment of literacy programs and service in health and social service organizations. Most OMA members, however, were poor and unemployed. In 1988 only 10 percent of MPLA-PT members were women, although more women were finding jobs in teaching and professions from which they had been excluded in the past.

The JMPLA, which claimed a membership of 72,000 teenagers and students in 1988, became the only route to party membership after 1977. JMPLA members were required to participate in the Directorate of People's Defense and Territorial Troops, formerly the People's Defense Organization (Organização de Defesa Popular--ODP), and political study groups. The relatively small size of the organization, however, was indicative of the difficulty the government faced in recruiting young people from rural areas.

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