The Combating of Domestic Violence Act 4 of 2003 of Namibia is in direct contradiction to the supreme law of the country, the Constitution. The Act defines domestic relationships between spouses as “those of different sexes” and discriminates against persons who are in a same-sex domestic relationship, while the constitution explicitly states in Article 10 that all persons shall be equal before the law – that no persons may be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status. The Combating of Domestic Violence Act discriminates on grounds of sex.
The fact remains there are Namibian citizens who are in same-sex domestic relationships. They are teachers, police officers, lawyers, cleaners, artists, nurses and parents. They pay their taxes just like any Namibian citizen and have the right to be protected by public policy.
To strive for equality and equity, we need radical transformation of all legislation that is deeply rooted in patriarchal heteronormative values and practices so that full citizens of this country are not further discriminated against when accessing basic services such as applying for a protection order when in a violent relationship.
I was barely walking when Namibia gained independence but the memory is so ingrained in my mind, the shouting of joy in the streets, my uncle getting into the car and just hooting nonstop, my mother picking me up to join others under a tree, loads of smiles, jubilations and celebrations.
This joy didn’t last long in the lives of LGBTQ+ Namibians. Thirty-one years after independence, we have been left behind, forgotten and treated as unwanted child in public policy. Growing up and singing the National anthem every day, for 12 good years at school, with so much pride and patriotism, “glory to their bravery, whose blood waters our freedom”, people in same-sex relationships question what Freedom means to them in Namibia today.
Just a few years after independence, the hate speech started with some leaders who publicly denounced lesbians and gays, demanding that they be eliminated from Namibia. In response, the LGBTQ community came together to form an organisation, The Rainbow Project (TRP), to advocate for their rights.
The current President Hage Geingob, when asked by a journalist about LGBT rights, explicitly said: “My goodness, we are talking about poverty eradication, unemployment, food and yet my young brother comes up with gay issues! ” to the amusement of those present who laughed at the young journalist’s question.
The constant violence against sexual minorities continues. The question would have not been asked if there was no concern over the protection of basic human rights of LGBTQ+ people. The question emanates from the fact that as a lesbian woman, the state does not protect my human rights – at work, on the streets and even in my own home.
Last year, thousands of Namibians young and old charged to the streets to demand reproductive justice so women can access safe and legal abortion, to demand accountability on violence against women and children, to protest against police/military brutality and systemic oppression of black people even after the long and hard fight for the liberation of this country.
Namibia has very progressive laws including the Combating of Rape Act 8 of 2000, which doesn’t differentiate the state’s protection based on what sex the person is, so why must the Combating of Domestic Violence Act differentiate who is protected? Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and intersex persons who are born in Namibia – and are by definition citizens of this country, deserve all the same protections that our heroes and heroines fought for.
Being in an intimate violent relationship while being of a sexual minority can be traumatic, as you are already in a relationship, for which your community and society constantly discriminate and stereotype you. So, whom do you go to for support – the Namibian police? Where you are likely to be met with harassment and ridicule once they find out you are in a same-sex relationship?
Do you then turn to your family, without fearing they might organise for you to be sexually violated by a man so that you can stop liking girls? Do you turn to the church that constantly calls you a demon and slaps the door in your face? The violence is so rife wherever you turn – and this is the reality of black lesbian woman in Namibia today.
The Young Feminists Movement of Namibia has started an Equal Protection petition with almost 400 signatures so far to call for the protection of persons in same-sex domestic relationships. The Pride Pop-Up event, which took place recently under the theme: “What does freedom mean to you as an LGBTQ+’’, was organised by courageous young LGBT individuals, and the annual Namibian Lesbian Festival organised by the Women’s Leadership Centre to claim public space for lesbian women to share their experiences are some of the many ways in which LGBT activists, organisations and allies are rallying for the realisation of all Namibians to enjoy their freedom and human rights.
We need the state, the church, schools and communities to join hands in this fight. We all know of family members, friends, fellow worshippers and colleagues who are in same-sex relationships – why wouldn’t we want them to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual people do?
As First Lady Monica Geingos said in 2019 after Botswana removed anti-gay legislation, Namibia, you are next.
Let us dream of a Namibia where freedom for one means freedom for all.
*Irene //Garoës is a feminist activist and works with Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) Namibia.