As in so many other conflict situations, Angolan women were excluded from meaningful participation in the formal peace negotiations between the warring parties. Neither OMA nor LIMA was able to play effective roles in bringing an end to the war.
Women's most vocal participation in political life has been their promotion of women's rights. Both during and since the end of the war, they have been in constant negotiation with the political leadership, lobbying for their concerns to be taken seriously by policy-makers and government officials. In the past, OMA played a decisive role as a policy-driven outfit dedicated to fighting for the improvement of women's legal status as well as their economic empowerment, and above all, the integration of women's issues into mainstream policies.
Arguably, OMA's most significant achievements occurred in the 1980s. Their efforts led to the introduction of the Family Code and formulation and implementation of a policy to provide free family planning to women. The main features of the Family Code are the recognition of consensual unions as marriage, the protection of children born out of wedlock and the encouragement of a fair division of tasks and responsibilities within the family. OMA also provided technical assistance to women and encouraged debate and discussion on previously taboo subjects such as customary marriage and abortion.
Although OMA played an effective role in promoting these reforms, the reality is that the majority of women are still fighting for their rights to be respected in practice. And while OMA is still a strong reference point for the women's movement in Angola, it is no longer the leading group representing the women's agenda. Membership has gone into decline as the organisation's continued ties to the MPLA have contributed to undermining its public credibility and ability to attract funding from the international community. Some members decided to create their own NGOs as a means of functioning independently of the party and have been more active and resourceful in responding to women's needs, through the instigation of development programmes and campaigns on issues such as reproductive rights and child vaccination.
It is important to note that some women's organisations have been visible in peacebuilding efforts. For instance, Rede Mulher has been an advocate for peace and campaigned against violence against women, and Women, Peace and Development (MPD) has also been active in peacebuilding. These initiatives have contributed to building a women's platform on peace and more importantly revealed that it is possible for women from different political parties and social sectors to combine efforts towards the same goal.
Nevertheless, the women's movement in general is weak. Like other social movements in Angola, it lacks capacity, influence and coordination. Many women's NGOs are unfocused in their role and objectives, reflecting a more general weakness in Angolan civil society, with the result that they have had little influence on policies that could improve women's lives. criticism has also been made of the movement's failure to represent the interests of women at the grassroots. Leadership is often in the hands of privileged women who have separate agendas due to their strong links with political parties.
One of the reasons why the women's movement has failed to unite on a common platform stems from the fact that the war has not meant the same to all women. Women have used a variety of means to survive and the social reality of poor women, whether in rural or urban areas, differs greatly from that of more privileged women. Larger numbers of poor women have lost their husbands and sons in the war and been displaced. These women are left with little hope for immediate improvement of their living conditions considering their low level of education and the fact that little is done politically to address their special needs.
In addition, women's organisations suffer from the same constraints as other civic organisations in funding and undertaking activities independently of the government. The non-governmental sector is still emerging and NGOs do not have much experience or capacity to respond to the enormous needs of many communities. The majority of civic initiatives are donor-driven rather than community-driven and have so far implemented short-term humanitarian emergency activities to the detriment of long-term development activities. In this context, significant assistance needs to be provided to local groups for them to start implementing sustainable long-term activities. At present, these are mostly left to international organisations, thus contributing to a wide disparity between the capacities of local and international actors.