Students’ haircuts provoke protests in Angolan schools

One student Daniel Moço told Deutsche Welle news network that the practice is discriminatory. Image: Giovana Fleck/Global Voices

Since the end of September 2022, Angolan schools have been experiencing turmoil after information circulated that reported the ban on some allegedly indecent hairstyles. According to some media outlets, long and “extravagant” hairstyles have caused students to miss classes in schools in Luanda.

The school put in place a mandatory haircut to “safeguard hygiene” but also to avoid alleged “incitement to violence.”

One of the directors of the school in question, Instituto Médio Industrial de Luanda (IMIL), informs exhaustively what kind of cuts should be avoided in his institution:

Aqueles estudantes que se apresentarem na nossa instituição com cortes extravagantes, como, por exemplo, com cabelo despenteado ou com um corte com desenhos na cabeça, esses estudantes, logicamente, nós aconselhamos a irem para casa…

Those students who come to our institution with extravagant haircuts, for example with disheveled hair or a haircut with drawings on their heads, these students, of course, we advise to go home…

However, the reaction was one of surprise and protest on the part of the students, especially for students who wear curly hair or long or braided hairstyles, in the case of boys. This situation has been going on for weeks and gave rise to a protest march by students on October 8. The police stopped the protest, and even arrested some students. The organizers of the march, as mentioned earlier, defended that the attitude was an act of clear violation of their rights:

Enquanto estudantes, foi com bastante insatisfação que tomamos conhecimento de que, um estabelecimento de ensino, havia impedido um estudante de assistir aulas, enquanto não cortasse o cabelo, pelo facto desse ser crespo, sendo que o mesmo não acontecia com os meninos que tinham cabelo liso e comprido, ou seja de pele branca…

As students, it was with great dissatisfaction that we learned that an educational establishment had prevented a student from attending classes, until he had his hair cut, because it was curly, and the same did not happen with boys who had smooth and long hair, that is, white skin…

Angolan legislation does not prohibit the use of curly or natural hair in public and private institutions. So one of the students Daniel Moço told Deutsche Welle news network that the practice is discriminatory:

Achamos um acto de descriminação pela qual condenados esse tipo de atitude porque não há bases para se proibir um aluno de entrar na escola com cabelo natural, grande seja em que estado estiver.

We find it an act of discrimination by which we condemn this type of attitude because there is no basis for prohibiting a student from entering school with natural hair, regardless of which state he is in.

Some associated the decision of Angolan schools as an act of continuity of colonial practices, as is the case of Isidro Fortunato from the Ubuntu Movement:

O comportamento destas instituições é um fardo pesado das políticas coloniais e de segregação que vigoraram nas províncias ultramarinas” de Portugal entre 1482 a 1975, altura em que Angola se tornou independente. Tens aqui uma herança de um determinado contexto histórico que foi reaproveitada na sociedade angolana da atualidade porque não houve uma ruptura com o passado histórico.

The behavior of these institutions is a heavy burden of the colonial and segregation policies that prevailed in “the overseas provinces” of Portugal between 1482 and 1975, when Angola became independent. Here you have a legacy of a certain historical context that was reused in Angolan society of the present because there was no rupture with the historical past.

In response to the controversy, the Ministry of Education of Angola intervened with guidelines advising schools to combat discrimination. In this note, Minister Luísa Grilo urged schools to create “a harmonious environment of respect for difference in the different ways in which each student's hair can be presented without, however, subverting the code of conduct and school discipline.”

…o Sistema de Educação e Ensino se rege pelos princípios da igualdade e da proteção da criança, previstos na Constituição da República, bem como pelo princípio da universalidade, previsto na Lei de Bases do Sistema de Educação e Ensino promovendo assim o combate contra todo o tipo de discriminação por razões da ascendência do indivíduo, sexo, raça, etnia, cor, deficiência, língua, local de nascimento, religião, convicções políticas, ideológicas ou filosóficas.

…the Education and Teaching System is governed by the principles of equality and child protection, provided for in the Constitution of the Republic, as well as by the principle of universality, provided for in the Basic Law of the Education and Teaching System, thus promoting the fight against all types of discrimination on grounds of an individual's ancestry, sex, race, ethnicity, color, disability, language, place of birth, religion, political, ideological or philosophical convictions.

The guidelines also mention that school managers must obey the laws and must ensure the materialization of the general principles that govern the Education System and promote “strategies of permanent dialogue with the members of the school community to establish rules for school coexistence that ensure the broad protection of the child against all types of discrimination.”

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