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On the spot - Protesters gripped by anger, frustration

2020-10-16  Paheja Siririka

On the spot - Protesters gripped by anger, frustration

Youth leader Bertha Tobias (BT) is one of the many young women who took part in the #ShutItAllDown protest to rally against sexual and gender-based violence in society. New Era’s Paheja Siririka (PS) engaged the outspoken and firm Tobias on protest and the petition to the authorities. 

PS: What ignited the protest?
BT: It is not lost on us that SGBV and femicide cases have been increasing, it is general exhaustion and frustration. What particularly ignited this protest is the discovery of the human remains at the coastal region of Shannon Wasserfall and that prompted a nationwide conversation about SGBV, femicide and overall safety of women in the country.

PS: How did you become part of the protest?
BT: I became part of the protest like everybody else, it is a cause I believe in and I want to contribute to with my presence and voice. The role that I play is just that of a young and frustrated woman who is constantly feeling unsafe in this country. I asked myself what skill I have at my disposal that I can use to amplify the cause and it was my voice, that is how I contributed to the #ShutItAllDown movement.

PS: Do you think the demands are realistic?
BT: I must stress that the demands are cognizant of the time sensitivity and implication constraints and in that essence, I honestly don’t think they are unrealistic at all. Once you understand them as they are and being sensitive to the fact that our government and other relevant stakeholders do face implication challenges, they will take a long time to be implemented and we know for sure some of them will not be implemented in our lifetime. I think they take a lot of capacity, resources and a huge cultural [intent] that could take a concerted amount of time and effort.

PS: What is the overall opinion on the coverage of SGBV by Namibian media?
BT: The coverage of the protest by local media is commendable. I for one did not expect the media to be this proactive and heavily involved in covering it. The fact that such protests can easily be politicised is what worries me and other protesters. The coverage helped a lot in amplifying not only the cause but the SGBV in general and the media is playing a crucial role.

PS: What do you make of the treatment by the police of the protesters?
BT: On the first and second day of protest, there was a cohesive and collaborative effort between law enforcement and the protesters. On Saturday (10 October 2020) it was unprecedented, regrettable and I strongly feel there should be an active acknowledgement and validation of the pain and trauma that was experienced by the young protesters.

PS: How many protests does the group intend holding?
BT: Right now, given the government’s satisfactory response, we don’t intend on holding more protests but are planning on hosting a more of a healing kind of concluding event. We are no more going to be protesting, we are satisfied with the response, now the real work begins where we hold one another accountable as a society.
PS: What does the term #ShutItAllDown mean?
BT: By #ShutItAllDown, we mean that nobody should continue living freely and fairly, continue economic and commercial activities if women can’t go about their daily lives. We believe it’s unfair. We need to shut the whole country down and address these issues. 

PS: Share your thoughts on the protests receiving international coverage, what does this mean for a country like Namibia which is hardly in the news?
BT: This is not the kind of international coverage that is desirable, but this is an honest representation that the country is suffering in a sexual and gender-based violence and femicide crisis and what’s beautiful about that acknowledgement is the response and accompanied by a national strategic way forward. Yes, it’s great we are having international coverage although it is not the most desirable. It sheds light on the issue and not just for Namibian women but women all over the world.

PS: Why is the group calling for the resignation of the gender minister?
BT: I would like to state that the group and I believe there are no personal agendas. There are no targets on personality individuals because quite frankly we are holding them accountable to public office. Regardless of whoever was occupying that position of the gender ministry, an inactiveness in that position would still be called out.
We need to understand the resignation is being called out on the premise of statements the minister made or was quoted as saying and one of those things is “SGBV can no longer persist because women are the carry bags of babies and if women died out, the country will be depopularised” and here I am just paraphrasing.  Statements like that are reflective of the perception of women’s bodies and autonomy and are very harmful and damaging. It communicates women to be inclusively reproductive units or refusing to discuss abortion because of religious value systems.

PS: Do you think the death penalty is the solution?
BT: I think the solutions are multi-sectoral. I don’t think it is one solution because we also struggle as a country with deeply rooted problematic and damaging cultural perceptions of women agency and autonomy. No amount of death penalty could remove that because it starts from the grassroots level. I don’t think death patently is the solution.

PS: Did the group secure permission from the police before protesting?
BT: No, the #ShutItAllDown is a leaderless and faceless movement, it becomes difficult to determine who needs to be accountable for acquiring the police clearance and in absence of that leadership, the issue of police clearance went largely ignored. The first protest was sporadic as it happened immediately after the discovery of the human remains. The collective emotion we felt in that moment overpowered rational thinking and technical consideration of acquiring clearance, and it’s not a justification for hosting illegal demonstrations.  

PS: Protesters have been condemned for being disrespectful to law-enforcement officers, what do you make of these allegations?
BT: It is pretty clear what we are seeing in videos circulating on social media, we have seen teargassing, beatings, harassing, from law enforcement. Protesters were angry at SGBV, at systems and structures and institutions. Every protest had a direct focus and none of those protests’ focus was on law enforcement. I don’t believe there was disrespect, but that answer is contingent on how we define disrespect.

PS: Some people are alleging political points are being collected by those participating and lobbying behind the protest, what’s your view on it?
BT: I don’t think we should dismiss the validity and legitimacy of those claims. There is the possibility that some people are protesting for political points and we will never know that, and it becomes important to point out that even within regulated and authenticated movements, there is potential for people to use such platforms to obtain objectives that are not necessarily aligned with the cause.  

PS: The protest has been targeting certain entities including the private sector, how is the sector ignoring the state of affairs as far as SGBV is concerned?
BT: Demands expected from the private sector include immediate agreements between sector players and police to fund and enhance the capacity of security apparatus to have 24/7 armed patrols, review of sexual harassment and assault policies in all businesses to enhance the ability for firstly, survivors to report incidents without fear and silencing, and secondly, for perpetrators to face appropriate repercussions for acts of sexual assault and harassment
The private sector is expected to review HR policies to disallow any employee from having sexual relations with any subordinate employee, prioritisation of gender and SGBV sensitivity training workshops in all businesses. Prioritise annual budget allocations to fight against SGBV in workplaces both internally, and with outside anti-SGBV civil society organisations and/or government.

2020-10-16  Paheja Siririka

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