“A gendered insult is any word or phrase which is disproportionately applied to a member of a particular gender, and which generally bears some connection to societal expectations or norms placed upon that gender”.
AR member and candidate legal practitioner at Kadhila Amoomo Legal Practitioners, Kavetu Maitjituavi, often reiterates that they “are not in the business of nursing people’s feelings” whenever their leaders are called out for sexist remarks and disparaging comments they make towards their female opponents when conflicts and disputes arise.
A case in point is when their leader, who is being sued for defamation of character by female parliamentarian Maureen Hinda, responded in a nonchalant manner that Hinda is spiteful because he ignored her romantic advances when he was still a member of the Swapo Party Youth League.
The sexist overtone in this snide remark reflects a misogynist culture imbedded in a patriarchal society, whereby “women continue to be the primary targets of insults based on sexual promiscuity and physical unattractiveness”.
According to Eliza Scruton, in her essay titled: Gendered Insults in the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface, “Women are more likely to be derogated on the basis of physical unattractiveness or sexual promiscuity, whereas men are more likely to be derogated on the basis of attributed homosexuality, weakness or sexual inadequacy”.
Hinasha Mbudje summarised this quite accurately on a Facebook post when she stated that “when women take a stance or position on something that a man in authority disagrees with, they are usually labelled as ‘promiscuous’, ‘barren’, ‘angry’, ‘materialistic’, etc”.
This is exactly the modus operandi of the AR leader, who first vilified Hinda for the way she looks by insinuating that she is dangerous and stabs people, and when she responded with a lawsuit, he responded with a gendered insult that implies she is sexually promiscuous, and is only bitter because he refused her sexual advances.
Respect for Human Dignity is enshrined in Article 8 of the Namibian Constitution.
Crimen injuria, which is the intentional harm to the dignity of another person, is a criminal offence which is punishable with a prison term and public figures, regardless of their social standing and general working conditions (where disputes often arise), are guaranteed equal protection in law like all other citizens.
The case of State versus Govender, delivered on 19 May 2022 and heard before Justice Liebenberg and Justice January, has reference. The appellant Thurupallan Govender was charged with crimen injuria, read together with the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act 4 of 2002, “in that he called the complainant (whom he had previously been romantically involved with) a ‘bitch’.
“He had also been previously convicted and sentenced on 12 April 2018 to a fine of N$ 2000 or six months imprisonment for calling the complainant a ‘bitch’, insulting her with her mother’s ‘vagina’, and even calling her a ‘witch’.
We could all agree that these sorts of insults are disproportionately directed at women as a collective group of individuals who were previously and still are discriminated against on the basis of their gender.
Slurs, gendered insults and SGBV
Sexual and gender-based violence within the Namibian context is an umbrella term that encompasses domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment at work and at school, some forms of human trafficking, forced prostitution and early marriages.
It should not be regarded as a stretch if gendered insults and gendered slurs are added to the category of SGBV, given the fact that in many cases, verbal confrontation is likely to escalate to physical confrontation, and insults by their very nature are violent anyway.
Similar to slurs, gendered insults are harmful because they enforce and reinforce harmful stereotypes.
‘Slurs are different from gendered insults in that they denigrate their referents on the basis of sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age, class, gender, national origin or even political affiliation’.
However, the harm they cause to those targeted by slurs and gendered insults are equally harmful.
Within rural communities where justice is swift, gendered insults are quickly punished and justice is served swiftly. However, within the urban centres where justice is slow and costly, complainants prefer not to take the route of seeking relief from courts, and this is a matter that needs serious addressing.
Monica Geingos, the First Lady of the Republic of Namibia, is expected to hear judgment in a civil suit she brought against political rival Abed Hishoono, who made disparaging remarks about her on a social media post that was circulated widely on social media two years ago.
Geingos is suing Hishoono for defamation and making false allegations.
Although this is not the first case of defamation to be heard in the high court, it sends a message to society that gendered insults cannot and should not be tolerated in a country where the right to dignity for all of the country’s citizens is enshrined in the Constitution.
Women’s emancipation seeks to remove gender discrimination from laws, institutions and behavioural patterns.
But before we can remove gender discrimination in practice, it is essential that the behavioural patterns that reinforce this type of discrimination is addressed.
In this regard, Geingos, as a vocal champion of women’s rights, nationally, continentally and internationally, has taken a step in the right direction.
Albeit costly and time-consuming, this case has the potential in changing the status quo where women are often denigrated, attacked, humiliated and insulted on the basis of their gender alone, whereas their male counterparts are not.
*Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist.