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Experts: Female MPs failing women

2024-04-19  Correspondent

Experts: Female MPs failing women

While female lawmakers in Namibia constitute 50% of the National Assembly and 14% of the National Council, the figures have not translated into tangible benefits for women and minority groups in general.

To top it, this year’s presidential ballot could feature at least four women, Swapo’s Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, National Unity Democratic Organisation leader Utjiua Muinjangue, independent candidates Ally Angula and veteran social justice activist Rosa
Namises, if all goes according to their plans.

However, the slightly higher level of women in the country’s body politic appears not to be yielding tangible results when it comes to changing laws and policies for the benefit of women, experts opine.

They accuse Namibian female members of parliament (MPs) of being ineffective as far as advancing issues affecting women at grassroots level is concerned.

Issues such as poverty, unemployment and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies, abortion and LGBTQI+ rights, have been highlighted as chief examples where women in leadership positions, especially in the Legislature, have dismally failed.

Ngamane Karuaihe-Upi, a gender activist and relationship coach, conceded that the current crop of female parliamentarians leave much to be desired. “Women in Parliament are failing others because they are not keen participants when it comes to bringing tangible solutions to issues affecting women at the grassroots level.”

Karuaihe-Upi was perplexed a few years ago that a motion tabled by Popular Democratic Movement leader McHenry Venaani some years ago to introduce free sanitary pads in public schools would be shot down by a woman. 

Venaani, a male lawmaker, stressed that school-going girls continue to skip classes during their menstruation period as they cannot afford sanitary pads. “I was so surprised to see female MPs trying to kill the motion. No one wanted to talk about menstruation in public. Some women were saying it was taboo in their culture to speak about sanitary pads in public,” Karuaihe-Upi recalls.  He further said there is a women's inter-parliamentary caucus, “but they never pronounced themselves on anything. They never take a stand; their voices are absent, and women are not getting the job done for other women.”

He holds the view that merely having more women in Parliament for the sake of achieving 50/50 gender representation is counter-productive, and that MPs should be chosen based on merit, not gender. 

“I pray that the next set of women [MPs] will come in and be aggressive. There should be a spirit that ‘I am going to Parliament to bring changes and leave a legacy’, and not just to decorate Parliament,” Karuaihe-Upi stated.  Adding her voice to the discourse was another expert, Veronica Haimbili. 

She is Genderlinks’ country coordinator in Namibia. “Women are being killed, and it’s shocking to see little action from women parliamentarians on this issue. They’re supposed to be our voice, but we rarely hear them speak out strongly against gender-based violence, despite the alarming rates of violence against women by men,” Haimbili said. 

It is also concerning that female representatives in positions of power and influence sometimes fall short in advocating for issues that directly impact women, she continued. 

“If they’re not championing these important matters, then who will? It’s not to say they’re doing nothing, but there’s certainly room for improvement. We’re relying on them to be our voices in Parliament and push for change that benefits all women,” she said.

While hailing the increase in the number of women presidential candidates as a move in the right direction, Haimbili said it is important to emphasise the role these women will play if elected.

“It’s not just about sitting in the position; it’s about representing women’s issues and bringing about real change. The women in influential positions are the hope for others, and they shouldn’t forget that,” she added.

On his part, Charles Simakumba, a community social mobilisation activist, educator and staunch anti-GBV advocate, rejected the notion that female MPs have failed in the execution of their duties. He said women MPs have brought new skills, different perspectives, and structural and cultural differences to drive effective solutions to Parliament. “We have been speaking with one voice that the government should incorporate a gender perspective at all levels of the budgetary process, and restructure revenues and expenditures in order to promote and enhance gender equality policies,” he said.



On the opposing side of the notion is Evelyn !Nawases-Taeyele, the Deputy Urban and Rural Development Minister, who also rejected assertions that they have failed to live up to the billing. She contends that female MPs advance
women's issues both in Parliament, at the committee level and at Parliament's women's caucuses.

“If people are saying we are mute on women’s issues, who are the people who were vocal around issues of introducing gender sensitive plans in all the ministries and government agencies?” she wanted to know. 

Veteran lawmaker Elma Dienda, a fierce and regular contributor to debates in Parliament, also shunned the perception, maintaining that female MPs have been at the forefront in advocating for women's empowerment and rights. 

“Women in Parliament have been very vocal on gender issues. I personally have criticised the budget allocation to the gender equality ministry and interrogate its impact on the grassroots level, and how it benefits the victims of domestic violence. We have been very vocal, and engaged the ministry of gender equality to prioritise the establishment of safe havens and rehabilitation for the victims of gender-based violence. Most female MPs also questioned the budget allocated to the Namibia Police whether it is sufficient to boost their operation to respond to the crime scenes on time,” said Dienda. 

She continued: “Was it not women who pushed to have the sanitary pads tax-free? What are we not doing?” She asked, before adding that “as women, we have been speaking with one voice that the government should incorporate a gender perspective at all levels of the budgetary process, and restructure revenues and expenditures in order to promote and enhance gender equality policies.” 

Youthful Landless People’s Movement legislator Utaara Mootu said while a lot has been done in terms of spearheading women's issues, there is a need for a collective and unified voice from all female parliamentarians.

“There are specific female MPs who showed exceptional work, and have been working hard to ensure women's socio-economic emancipation,” Mootu said. 

She said female MPs have been vocal about women’s issues, including prenatal care to ensure maternal benefit increases, advocate for paternal leave to ensure balance in terms of support from both parents, and ensuring mental healthcare.

“For instance, I have championed for women in land rights and ensured that there is a gender approach in the resettlement and land delivery system. I have been vocal about the exportation of farm dwellers and the fact that women must be thrown out for example if the husband passed on. We have been engaging with the land reform stakeholders to ensure the inclusiveness of women in land delivery,” the LPM member said. 



According to the most recent global statistics, only 26.5% of the world’s parliamentarians are women.  At present, no functioning parliament has zero women, “which is a good sign”, while only six countries have achieved gender parity.

This is according to a report on the role of parliament in the implementation of the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) released late last year.

The report emanated from a roundtable discussion attended by Namibian members of Parliament (MPs) in Geneva, Switzerland last June.

The indaba was organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OUDHR), in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The convention touched on the issue of gender parity in global legislative organs of state.

“There is progress, but it would take 150 years to fully realise equal participation in politics and meaningful participation,” UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk was quoted as saying in the report.

Meanwhile, IPU secretary general Martin Chungon said: “Gains in women’s rights and gender equality are at a serious risk of being reversed by multiple crises.

“I think the big challenge for a woman is to raise her hand, believe in herself and say, yes, I want to be there. Trust women, and give them a chance to participate by creating quotas. To achieve gender equality in parliament is to have equal representation, to have the same opportunities and the same rights,” Cyntia Lopez Castro, Mexican MP and IPU Forum of Women Parliamentarians' member said in the report.



The report also highlighted a myriad of challenges faced by women in politics.

“Gender-based violence at home and in the public sphere and even in political life is a global phenomenon that constitutes a key barrier to women’s political participation. GBV in politics targets women more than men, including. sexist threats, sexual harassment, online harassment and female political candidates and journalists exposed to online GBV,” the report said.

There are also deeper-rooted gender stereotypes defining the roles of men and women, often associated with women being excluded from rooms where strategic decisions are made.

“The assumption that women are weaker is not true, and the need for women to look towards men’s protection and guidance continues to hinder women’s participation in decision-making,” the conference confirmed.

2024-04-19  Correspondent

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