As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, New Era (NE) Senior Journalist Alvine Kapitako spoke to the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Christine //Hoebes (CH) on women making an impact at community, national, continental and even the world stage as well as the challenges they encounter as they aspire to make a difference. Although the day is celebrated in Namibia on 10 December, each year, worldwide, International Women’s Day is observed on 8 March.
NE: Are you satisfied with women’s representation in top leadership positions?
CH: “I do not want to zoom in just the political leadership because women are all over. We have women leaders in business, churches, and all spheres of society. So if we only zoom in into political leadership, those who are already elevated by virtue of their positions will do injustice to the other women who are not put on the pedestal on a daily basis. We should not only talk about women we see on television everyday, women we see in newspapers everyday. We must talk about women who occupy other senior positions in non-governmental organisations and public enterprises. Why should I not be satisfied if we have people like Ester Kali (Letsego), Rosalia Martins-Hausiku (CEO of Motor Vehicle Accident Fund), we have people like Zelna Hengari (Managing Director of Namibia Wildlife Resort), Twapewa Kadhikwa and many others. These are women who are occupying top leadership positions but who are not always in the newspapers, they are not always seen or heard but their performance speaks volumes of what they are doing. They are occupying these top leadership positions because they have performed satisfactory.”
NE: There is a perception that women at grassroots level are not keen on occupying positions because of barriers resulting from cultural norms. What are your views on this?
CH: “We come from different cultures and the overarching culture of Africa is patriarchy. That is the system in which we all grew up and the system of patriarchy does not give opportunities for women to progress and to be empowered. But we have moved a whole lot from that to where we are now. Over the past 29 years, especially women in rural areas are the ones that are holding the pot, you go to church, you will find them in the church leadership, at school functions they are the school board members and these are women who are not really put on the pedestal, women who are not really celebrated. When you go to water point committees (in rural areas) its women who are part of these committees, if you go to school bazaars you will see that women are the ones who are organising these events. Women are the leaders in informal sectors and they are working under harsh conditions to provide for their families, that is leadership in itself. So, I think to say women are held back because of culture, is an old kind of thinking because we have evolved. I’m a rural woman, I come from a rural area, and I’m not a city girl. If there were no one keeping the fort at rural level, we wouldn’t have been here today. We were nurtured there by women.”
NE: What are some of the challenges women face in leadership positions and is culture holding them back from performing well if at all since there are still perceptions that women do not perform as effectively as men due to culture?
CH: “Men still want to hold on to the view that they are the only ones who can do things, that they are the only ones who can perform, they are the only ones who can deliver and I still have to meet a woman who has been offered a senior position and refused to take up the position because of culture. What culture would really impede a woman’s progress and empowerment? Is it culture at home? Is it culture in society? Would the traditional leader tell women in their community to not take up positions of responsibility or is it the husband who tells her to not take on the position of responsibility? I do not understand when people bring in the cultural element to say women are held back because of culture. In my culture and where I come from, I have not seen a woman being held back because of cultural practices so maybe I need to be educated on what is happening in other cultures. Do men say a woman should not attend for example a parents’ meeting because when she goes there she will be elected? Or she should refuse any nomination because her husband has said so?”
NE: We know that sometimes its women pulling down other women who are making it in top positions. This is known as the Pull Her Down (PHD) syndrome. What are your views on this and what in your view could be the cause for PHD syndrome?
CH: “I am painfully optimistic (laughs) because of my optimism, I have not experienced any form of ‘Pull Her Down’ in my own growth. I took up positions of responsibility in leadership at the age of 23 when I was elected in the local authority council in 1992 and this was done by women. Women of the local authority area where I was nominated me to become a candidate for the party (Swapo) and that is how I came to be elected eventually as mayor of Witvlei. So ever since my ascendance to political leadership, I have not experienced PHD. And Pull Her Down actually means you impede another woman’s growth, progression and it is not institutionalised. I think it’s at a personal level, it’s more a character issue. It’s unfortunate if this (PHD) is still happening in our society in this day and age because women are rising and women are unstoppable. When we talk about Pull Her Down syndrome women should pull themselves up by continuously empowering themselves so that build self-confidence, so that they progress in their personal advancement and these things will not really matter to them at the end of the day.”
NE: Are you satisfied with gender representation in Namibia?
CH: “Women were disadvantage even before independence. So, when we gained our independence and when we crafted our Constitution, equality of rights was enshrined in the Constitution. And it is on this that the national gender policy was developed. The national gender policy talks about equality between men and women, equal access to amenities, equal access to basic services that they can equally contribute to and participate in political, economic, social and cultural spheres and with that the empowerment of women is included that women would be pulled up from where they were left behind and that they are put on par with men. Over the past 29 years we have made great strides in employing and empowering women to take up positions of leadership. I have made reference to leadership in the corporate world, in Government, political sphere. We have so far about 42 women parliamentarians out 104, that’s a great stride that we have achieved over the past four years since the implementation of 50/50 from Swapo Party side. We have in our case her ambassadors and out of 32 ambassadors, we have ten female ambassadors and 22 are male ambassadors. These are things that you would not have seen in the past 15 to 20 years but we have progressed and the progression is at a very rapid rate. We have permanent secretaries now called executive directors. We have 34 and 24 are male and 10 are female, we are not doing very bad. We have 187 female deputy directors in government and 203 are male. So we are making real strides into these spheres. With board appointments it’s really going very well because the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare disapproves any board appointment without females in Cabinet. She always insists on 50/50. At board appointments, if the chairperson is male, the deputy chairperson should at least be female or vice versa. At board level in parastatals we are doing very well. So far, out of 540 board members, we have 229 female and 311 male, that’s a very good number. We are making real strides.”
NE: In your opinion, should women be given preferential treatment?
CH: “Women should not be given preferential treatment just because they are women. They should be given an enabling environment to grow and to advance themselves and what is happening is that women are given an enabling environment. Women are trained. You will hear of workshops and see at workshops even at rural areas where women are trained on management and leadership. That is an enabling environment and these are programmes targeted at empowering women and equipping them to take up leadership positions. When you have a woman that is empowered and equipped and there is an opportunity for her to grab, why not? Not because she is a woman, she is equipped and she has the necessary training and education.”
NE: What do you make of the reasons why Africa has had only a few (three) female presidents?
CH: “Leadership is evolving, Africa is evolving, we are no longer the Africa that we used to hear about and know about. We do not hear of coups and civil strife and all that. We have evolved from what we were known of into a new modernized democratised Africa. So, it is coming that we will have more women in leadership.”
NE: What advice would you give to other women (especially young women)?
CH: “So many women went ahead of us and we are standing ahead of so many young women. The women that went ahead of us conquered a lot and I can say we are more than conquerors so we are breaking grounds for the women who will come after us. We want to make things easier for them, we want to make the ground softer for them so that their landing is not as hard as those that went ahead of us. What I would say is, they must chin up and they must go out there and grab every opportunity that is laid bare for them. Young women of today are no longer studying teaching and nursing only as we used to do in the past. They are engineers, they are medical doctors, they are quantity surveyors, they are so many things that we never knew of and the world stands ready to embrace these young women, especially from Africa. We have a very young generation (population) in Africa and Europe and the other continents have got an aging generation, so our young women and men in Africa should prepare themselves for the market not only in Africa but outside of Africa because they will be so much needed in years to come. Thirty to 50 years from now they will need Africans, not as illegal immigrants, not as people who are just there on taxpayers’ money and be a burden to Government but as professionals who are going there to contribute and make a meaningful contribution to the economy of those countries and to repatriate their knowledge and skills and even the money to Africa. African women should arise and prepare themselves because the opportunities will open up.”
2019-03-08 10:10:29 2 months ago