The #slutshameWalk and # MeToo Namibia movements have over the past two years championed women’s rights within the context of sexual autonomy; broadly defined as a woman’s/man’s “prerogative to determine when, with whom, and under what circumstances they engage in sexual activity”.
These movements also introduced the Namibian political landscape to the concepts of rape culture, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity.
Rape culture loosely defined is the normalization of rape within a given society “due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality”.
Patriarchy, within the circles of political activists who identify themselves as being feminists, is defined as a system that subordinates, discriminates and is oppressive against women.
Although the traditional definition of patriarchy as defined in the Oxford dictionary is “a system of society in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line.”
Toxic masculinity is a subjective term that includes stereotypes of men as socially dominant and prejudiced against women.
The notion of rape culture passively admits that entire societies have been complicit in the rape, sexual assault and sexual violence against woman.
This begs the question of whether or not societies in general and Namibian society in particular should take collective action in ensuring that the recognition of women’s rights and equality before the law are not just entrenched but rather observed by all members of society.
Rape is stigmatized and speaking out about sexual abuse at the hands of a stranger, a friend, a boyfriend an uncle or even a brother or parent takes tremendous courage.
Those brave women who came out in public on social media during the course of last year to ‘out’ their rapists should be commended for their bravery, however, the ‘outing’ of these rapists has not done much to curb the prevalence of sexual violence in Namibian society.
This can be attributed to a variety of factors, amongst them the absence of men within the fight against sexual violence meted out against women and children.
During her training workshop on Ethical Reporting on Gender Based Violence, Monica Geingos, the First Lady of Namibia made a profound remark during a speech on the need to have men actively involved in ending violence and specifically sexual violence against women.
She said, “the men who are accused of rape in society are often depicted in media as monsters; whilst their actions are monstrous, most of them are considered ‘upstanding’ human beings who live relatively normal lives”.
This statement in itself was evidenced by the fact that most of the young men who were ‘outed’ are not necessarily ‘monsters’ but ‘decent’ young men who have engaged in a horrific crime that has been systematically entrenched by centuries of rape culture, patriarchy and toxic masculinity!
Should these young men’s voices not be heard in order for us to understand their poor life choices in an effort for both them and their victims to find at least some form of healing?
According to an Amnesty International report titled: Rape and Sexual Violence, “For sexual contact to be legal, consent must be given voluntarily, as a result of the person’s free will, assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances.”
The report goes on to explain: “The human right of equality and non-discrimination in the enjoyment of physical and mental integrity requires that there should be equality in weight given to the free and full agreement to sexual contact of both or all parties to the contract, whether or not such sexual contact involves penetration.”
The report also states, “A consensual decision is a decision made without force, threat of force, coercion or taking advantage of a coercive environment.”
How many young men knew they had actually committed an act of rape before they were ‘outed’ and how many young men today, informed by the #SlutShame Walk and #MeToo Namibia, look back at their early sexual encounters and recognize that their actions constitute rape but are too afraid to come out and make amends with their victims out of fear of the legal and criminal ramifications?
Amnesty or rather immunity from prosecution for men who may have committed the act of rape without knowing at the time that their actions constituted rape should be considered as a viable alternative/option towards progress in the fight against sexual violence.
How many young men have coerced women into agreeing to sexual intercourse because they had the means to transport them after a late night out?
How many young men have forcefully engaged in sexual intercourse with young women whilst both were under the influence of alcohol without being fully conscious of the fact that they were engaging in an act of rape?
How many young men (18 years old) have engaged in sexual relations with 14-year-old girls not knowing they were engaging in the crime of statutory rape?
These men’s actions are informed by centuries of rape culture, patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
They too are victims of an oppressive system that had not informed them or given them a chance to make healthier life choices which would have led them to not carrying out criminal actions in the heinous crime of rape.
Some may argue that it is up to the victim/survivor to decide whether their violator should receive immunity from prosecution if he were to reach out to make amends; however the fact that rape is so prevalent in Namibian society means that there must be a collective effort towards righting the wrongs of the past.
This may entail victims/survivors of rape and sexual abuse making concessions in being prepared to allow men who may have committed the crime of rape and would like to come clean to be able to do so in exchange for immunity from prosecution for their criminal actions.