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Opinion - Patriarchy in Namibia: Challenges and solutions

2021-02-26  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Patriarchy in Namibia: Challenges and solutions
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Reverend Jan Scholtz


The word 'patriarchy' comes from the Latin word for father, but patriarchy nowadays has a more sinister connotation.  

It refers to the rule of patriarchs but more importantly, to a society where men rule, dominate and make decisions.  In the first sense, patriarchy is about the location of power in a society. Then, patriarchy comes to mean a society that is measured by male values, where male is normal and female is abnormal; where male is superior and female inferior.  

In this second sense, patriarchy is a value structure. Thirdly, patriarchy comes to carry ethical connotations. Male things are good and females things are bad; male things are strong and female things are weak. 

Patriarchy claims that male is whole, female is sinful. In this third sense, patriarchy is an ethical system, or a part of an ethical system by which we classify, test and judge the world.

This is theoretical, and it is important to put some flesh on the bones of the definition of patriarchy. Some examples of the patriarchal construct include, but not limited to:

A company that pays male staff more than it pays the female for doing the same job is putting case value on men and women; a higher value on men in fact!

An airline passenger who worries on hearing that the pilot is a woman.

A bank that will not allow a married woman to have an account without the presence or approval of her husband.

An undertaker who says to a woman priest, ‘Burying the dead is a man’s job’.

A father who sends his son to university rather than his daughter, though his daughter performs much better at school.

In all traditional cultures, social roles are very clearly defined, and what is challenging is that these roles are severely frowned upon. Challenges to traditional roles of leadership or gender functions closed systems are regarded as challenged to the security and health of the community and dealt with often with great severity.

But it must also be remembered that traditional societies are not all agreed about these social roles, which vary very widely – even in one region of Africa. Women are sometimes agriculturalists – and sometimes it is the men. Lineage is matrilineal in certain cultures. In very few cases, polyandry is practised by the women, whereas polygamy is more common.  

Sometimes, it is limited to key leaders; in other places, it is quite general. What we must also note is that usually, the men hold the power and control the means of production, as well as the sources of communication. Women sometimes accept these challenges passively and covertly.  

Increasingly now, especially in more westernised or economically developed parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the traditional values have broken down or are rapidly changing. Labour patterns have caused hundreds of thousands of Southern Africans to leave their traditional villages, to relocate to single-sex hostels and townships. 

As a result, new patterns of relationship have developed, which certainly include new forms of polygamy in which several wives or partners are maintained in various locations, along with the original wife or wives back home.

Such disruption and dislocation have left the Southern African male with a sense of loss of community, of purpose, of tradition and culture. What has replaced it is a temporary, financially constrained and secretive series of arrangements which cause pressure of a sort not traditionally experienced. The escalation of abuse which we are now aware of in Namibia is at least partly caused by this disruption. The fear is that abuse is becoming thought of as normal to the new social order.

We have a theological, ethical and social responsibility to challenge sin, and promote holiness at a corporate and communal level, not just at an individual one. Now how can we address these issues in a collective and constructive manner?

By education and enabling people to recognise the existence, the impact and the pain caused by behaviour that puts women down. We need to listen to women’s stories of their own experience, in particular. Providing appropriate programmes of behavioural modification – rather like Racism Awareness Programmes that help people to see that alternative behaviours are not just an option, they are a realistic, practicable and fruitful option. 

Developing a basic understanding of ethical values and practices based on the Namibian Constitution and the United Nations Bill of Human Rights. Too often today, with the collapse of apartheid, the behaviour is determined in the heat of the moment, for convenience pleasure or gain, without reference to any external standards.

Secondly, by community action, the transformation of social behaviour depends on agreement in the community to initiate change. This is the point at which the community can make a difference, by seeking to change not just the behaviour of Christians but the behaviour of all.  And instead of waiting for government, social services or secular NGO’s to take the initiative. Christians are in a position to call together community leaders to plan action. The community need to find ways of speaking out against violence against women, by newsletters, indabas, through marches, and through a presence at other community events.

Churches are often so busy raising money, engaging in petty internal disputes, correcting doctrinal heresy, but they do not notice that the community is in serious trouble. Thirdly, by legislation. 

It would be a great step forward if churches and civil societies engage members of Parliament at local, regional and national level, what plans they have for the implementation of the constitutional rights and protection of women through constant advocacy. Above all, do not be complacent, change can come, but it must come from all of us.

2021-02-26  Staff Reporter

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