In the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.”
This is also so of Namibian women, who continue to improve themselves in the hope of breaking the relationship between gender-based violence and poverty.
Two decades ago, women were only considered to be the bearers of children who do household chores, but today Namibian female-headed households stand at more than 43.9 percent, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators.
Many credible studies and reports have stated that female-headed households are closely related to poverty, but there are a number of reasons why it is important to revisit this scenario at this particular time.
The first is the representation context. Equal representation at all levels is a measure of the empowerment of Namibian women.
Genuine sharing of authority in formal decision-making processes creates ethos where women are equal partners in homes and communities. From this position of strength, women are enabled to negotiate grassroots changes across our communities.
Secondly, although the Combating of Domestic Violence Act, the Combating of Rape Act and the Children’s Act have been cited internationally as progressive in protecting women and children, awareness of these provisions is still low and implementation capacity is still very limited among the police force and social welfare and justice systems.
Based on media reports, which highlight many young women being killed, with one of the most recent cases being the 23-year-old Unam third-year student who was stabbed to death [in Ongwediva], our women and girls across the country are still under siege - in their homes, at school and hostels, on the streets and in places of work.
It would appear that no female (even an infant or an elderly pensioner) is safe from becoming a victim of sexual assault, intimate partner abuse or murder, domestic violence, threat or harassment. It may be tempting to ascribe the crime statistics to a higher levels of public awareness. While this is improving with increased reporting of gender-based crimes, the pervasiveness is reflected in the statistics.
Still, it is estimated that only 20 percent of gender-based violence cases in Namibia are being reported.
Educators and social workers need to be involved in identifying physical and non-physical evidence of domestic violence and should be trained in the sensitive management of cases.
Most critically, better support needs to be offered to women and children who are forced to leave home, or who will suffer financial hardship, through the conviction of a family member who has carried out violence against them. The quality of registered places of safety needs to be assured, and greater oversight is needed in their management.
As a father to two young girls, I believe that gender-based violence cannot be seen purely in the context of reported physical attacks or serious crimes. Women and children who are subject to threats or intimidation, or are placed in positions where they are afraid to exercise their freedoms, are deeply affected psychologically and will tend to perpetuate violence as they grow into adults.
While efforts to address this extreme form of gender inequality will need to be varied, understanding the underlying causes of male violence in Namibian society is critical as well.
I would also argue that women in female-headed households have more decision-making power, more order, better and more advanced nurturing processes, high morals and a better understanding of discipline.
But judging from the statistics where nearly half of all active maintenance cases in Namibia’s 33 magistrate courts are cases where parents, mostly fathers, have failed to honour their obligations, this shows that most offspring are growing up without dads.
Our women are strong, they just need more societal protection.
International Women’s Day
Last Friday marked International Women’s Day and it was once again highlighted that women on the frontlines of the fight against gender inequality and global poverty.
I am in full agreement that to accelerate progress, men must demand change along with women, so that we rise united and not divided. It is critical that women must have a seat at decision-making tables.
Every single day as Namibians we see the determination of our women and young girls to succeed, as they face down some of the toughest challenges. There have been advancements, but more can and should be done for our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters.
As a leader, I would like to wish all women a belated International Women’s Day. May all your endeavours be fruitful. After all, it is true that nations rise and fall out of the laps of women!