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FEATURE STORYMarch 29, 2024

Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in Angola through second-chance education

Elizabeth Afonso Gonga has a fixed weekday routine. At 7:00 a.m. every morning, she arrives at the KM-30 market, a large hub situated on the outskirts of Luanda. Once there, she cleans up her stall and arranges the goods—including beans, rice, and peanuts—that she will sell during the day to earn a living and provide for her family. After that, between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., she attends adult education classes in one of the two rooms built by the market’s administration to host literacy lessons for the vendors. During her absence, her colleague Joana Domingos takes care of her stall and handles the sales on her behalf. When Elizabeth returns, it’s her turn to look after Joana’s stall while her friend attends a similar class from 9:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

The KM-30 market is the biggest hub for agricultural products in Angola. Spread over 1.9 million sqm, it boasts seven pavilions and about 3,500 registered traders. Every day, it receives truckloads of food items such as vegetables, fruit, tubers, cattle, goats, pigs, and poultry, most of which come from the countryside.

A large majority of the traders at the KM-30 market are women who sadly never had the chance to receive an education and to acquire basic reading and writing skills. In 2018, the National Statistics Institute of Angola published data indicating that the country’s illiteracy rate stood at 24%. However, a closer, gender-based analysis of the data revealed a significant disparity between men and women: while only 12% of men were found to be illiterate, the rate among women was over 42%. This gap is due to a range of factors, which include cultural and gender-based discrimination, lack of access to education, and poverty.

To fight illiteracy among women, the Angola Ministry of Education has expanded the second-chance education program within the framework of the World Bank-supported Girls Empowerment and Learning for All Project. This expansion provides out-of-school girls and boys aged 15 and older with a second chance to complete their education and gain valuable life skills.

This initiative offers a safe and supportive learning environment in which individuals can improve their reading and writing abilities, and learn basic arithmetic, an important set of skills that can help them make informed decisions for their trading businesses and in other areas of their lives.

Second-chance education students at KM-30 market. Photo: Wilson Piassa

Over the past few years, many second-chance education classes have been set up in markets, prisons, and churches across Angola. Elizabeth and Joana are two of the women attending classes in the KM-30 open-air market. They are not alone: many other women in the market also attend, recognizing the program as their only chance to gain the skills they need to succeed. Thanks to the project and these second-chance classes, they now have hope for a better future.

I have decided to pursue studies to gain academic knowledge. My childhood desire was to become a nurse, and that dream still lives within me. I am confident that I can achieve my dream by continuing my education and becoming a midwife, which is much needed in our communities and in the healthcare industry. As the government requires experienced women to work in maternity, I aspire to fulfill this need and make my dream a reality.
Elizabeth Afonso Gonga

Juliana Sakembe, who is 73 years old, also attends classes at the KM-30 market. She is the oldest student in the class, and her passion for learning has become an inspiration to younger women and men in the market. Juliana is determined to improve her literacy skills for two reasons: first, to be able to better educate her grandchildren, and second, to read the Bible and the hymns from her church.

Juliana Sakembe in class. Photo: Wilson Piassa

I am currently studying to improve my reading and writing skills so that I can better help my grandchildren,” she says. “Although my children are grown, I still look after some of my grandchildren, who frequently bring home letters and notices from school. Being able to read these notifications is essential as it helps me stay informed about what’s happening in their education and whether they may be struggling in any way. Reading and writing are crucial skills that allow you to stay informed and make better-informed decisions. Even when it comes to understanding the Bible in church, reading and writing are essential.”

She is currently in the third literacy cycle and takes pride in her ability to sign her name and read simple texts. Her academic achievements and experience have made her a source of inspiration, a role model, and an activist for women’s education in Angola’s KM-30 market.

I always advise younger women to think about their children,” she continues. “I remind them that they should never be ashamed to take literacy classes at their age. Being illiterate is something that they should be ashamed of, not studying as an adult. I encourage them to understand that providing food and clothing to their children is essential, but it is not enough. They should also keep up with their children’s education. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to read and write.”

Some of the teachers who provide second-chance classes were once adult-education students themselves. During his visit to the literacy classes at KM-30, Director Evaristo Pedro, the National Director of the Youth and Adult Education Directorate at the Ministry of Education, was filled with joy when one of his former students from 15 years prior came up and hugged him. This former student had taken literacy classes before becoming a teacher himself to help other adults learn how to read and write.

I cannot express enough how emotional I am to see Domingos Castro teaching and helping fellow Angolans to read and write. It shows that our efforts paid off,” said Evaristo Pedro. Angola has a high illiteracy rate, particularly among women. Our focus is on serving these women, and we want to ensure that our literacy classes are aligned with their reality. At the KM-30 market, these women are learning despite having to give up two hours of their day and leave their jobs or businesses to study. They are committed to gaining other skills that will help them find better paths in their lives. This is why we are providing adult education here, to ensure education for all.”


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