“I do not feel safe anymore” are the words narrated to me by an 11-year-old schoolgirl whom I shared a public transport with on my way to town on Wednesday, 16 September 2020.
For the past weeks Namibia has been outraged by diabolic acts of rape and killings with the Namibian Police recording more instances of these acts. According to their report about 1 604 rape cases were reported between January 2019 and June 2020.
An Eagle FM report released on 25 September 2020 reported that about 36 women and children in Namibia were killed between January and July 2020 and more than 500 women and girls were raped. The increase in these acts is a reflection of direct violence perpetrated and the patriarchal culture in which the dignity of women and the girl child is inadequately respected and protected.
The global statistics on sexual assault against women reported that at least one in five women experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Although this may sound untrue, it is however the reality of women especially in third world countries where cases of rape and domestic violence are widespread as a result of the unequal socio-economic status lingering from the colonial legacy. The rapes and murder have led to social instability in communities and instilled a state of fear in the country, particularly amongst women and children, who are vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) related deaths and sexual violence.
Sexual violence remains one of the critical social phenomena confronting modern societies, despite the implementation and enacting of legislation to combat the rape culture.
It is therefore imperative that the silence culture around rape is addressed specifically in areas where discussion of rape is disregarded, as rape is a common experience in the lives of girls and women and remains an act of ill that continues to inflict psychological damage in society.
The combating of Rape Act of 2000, which prohibits and proscribes penalties for rape (LAC 2010b, Namibia 2000, Sec. 2) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, are some of the legislation that have been promulgated in Namibia to combat rape. However, this has not been sufficient to address the rape culture as the rate of rape reporting remains low because of what is termed the woman fear factor, exclusively in rural and traditional setting areas.
Furthermore, the rates of conviction remain significantly lower than of other violent crimes. For instance, in Namibia four out of five people accused of rape never have to spend time in jail (Sister Namibia, Vol. 19 Issue 4). In the US only 5% of those that committed rape were convicted whilst in South Africa it is estimated that only 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted.
With such little conviction of crimes against rape it is worth noting that there is an urgent need to reform the justice system and law enforcement agencies globally, particularly in third world countries. In addition, more determined efforts need to be made to combat the social ills of rape in Namibia especially among women and children.
Rape statistics are crucial to showcase the intensity of rape in the country. However, it does not capture the social reality and the psychological distress it has on the community. For instance, the 11-year-old girl that was gang raped by two men and the murder of Shannon has caused an outcry in the social structure of society.
We have witnessed a series of demonstrations in the streets organized by young militant youth taking a stand against sexual and gender-based violence, under the hashtags of #ShutItAllDown and #OnsisMoeg. The protesters have called for the declaration of a state of emergency in respect of sexual and gender-based violence and an urgent review of sentencing laws for sex offenders and murders. However, with Covid-19 government has paid little attention to issues of gender-based violence and sexual violence, and as a result there has been an increase in cases related to sexual and gender-based violence. Furthermore, the economic pressure resulting from loss of income during the state of emergency has limited the alternatives of victims of violence to seek safer habitats, thus leaving the victims no option but to co-exist with their abusers.
From a feminist position, it can be argued that the systematic rape culture and the continuing onslaught of violence against women in Namibia stems from the deeply rooted social traditions of male dominance and female exploitation in society. As a result, women are viewed as lesser than men and are seen as subordinate.
To combat rape and eradicate GBV in Namibia we should invest in programs that are gender-centered and oriented. These programs should feature in the curriculum of schools, universities, and should be implemented through relevant institutions to ensure that the dignity of women and children is protected and respected.
These programs must aim to, amongst others, address gendered thinking and the traditional sexist behaviour in men and boys at an early stage. Furthermore, civil society, including churches, should be accorded the leading role in creating awareness around the topic of rape and GBV in the country.