Namibia is a Southwestern African nation bordering the Atlantic ocean. With a population size of just over 2.6 million and a ratio of female to male just short of 1:1, Namibia is one of the more progressive African nations. Namibian places second out of 55 states on the continent in its efforts to reduce gender inequality. However, while it has made considerable progress, there are still lengths to go in reducing sexual and gender-based violence in Namibia.
The Pandemic of Gender-Based Violence in Namibia
Namibia’s Constitution contains several articles clarifying its mission toward gender equality. One is specifically dedicated toward recognizing the unique oppression and exclusion of women and vowing equity through legislation stating women should be “encouraged and enabled to play a full, equal and effective role in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the nation.” These priorities are included within the National Development Plan (2007-2012) as well as the National Gender Policy (2010-2020). Namibia participates in several international and regional agreements that encourage gender equality and female empowerment.
Even with these steps in place, it was noted by the Unesco Gender Equality Objective Outputs in 2013 that the implementation of legislation concerning gender-based violence in Namibia needed critical improvement. A 2013 Namibia Demographic Health Survey showed that 33% of Namibian women aged 15-49 had experienced some form of gender-based violence. In 2019, Namibia recorded 200 cases of domestic violence per month according to Hendrick Olivier, the commander of Namibia’s Gender-Based Violence Protection Unit.
A serious disparity exists between the gender equality legislation and the socio-cultural norms that are pervasive within Namibia. The old patriarchal cultural atmosphere, which has begun to fade with a new youth movement, places women as inferior to men. A survey for women and men between the ages of 15-49 showed that 28% of Namibian women justified physical violence as a sufficient disciplinary tactic, while 22% of Namibian men believed the same thing. This disparity is shown once again in the gendered labor force statistics, with only 52% of women actively participating compared to 63% of men. This statistic illustrates the deep-seated cultural belief in the differences in men and women that have perpetuated gender-based violence in Namibia.
The Youth Impact
Namibian youth are actively shifting the culture and utilizing social media in mobilizing their efforts against rampant femicide. After the murder of 22-year-old Shannon Wasserfall, protests were planned online to disrupt the Namibian economy. They were successful with a 4-day economic standstill in the capital of Windhoek. The protestors had three demands: a specific deadline for policy to be implemented, the resignations of the Gender Equality Minister and Deputy Doreen Sioka and Bernadette Jagger and the declaration of a state of emergency.
The Namibian Government took these demands seriously. On October 9, President Hage Geingob met with protest leaders to discuss demands. Where previous protests were regionally limited and short-lived, recent protests have had much larger youth participation and are widespread with the help of social media. After the meeting, the Namibian Government identified their course of action in a response letter. The Namibian Government assured protestors they understood the severity of gender-based violence in Namibia and the necessity for swift change.
Legislative Action Ahead
The response letter entails an entire reformation of the system with the implementation of multiple policies such as the Domestic Violence Act and the gender-based action plan. The Namibian Government has promised the establishment of a sexual offender registry as part of the Domestic Violence Act. An investigation into open and pending cases is already underway as well as the compilation of data on offenders to track and identify repeat offenders throughout the city. The government will also utilize existing court infrastructure to create sexual and gender-based violence courts to try offenders.
Additionally, a review of the sentencing laws will take place as the maximum sentence for sexual offenders is currently at 37.5 years. Victims will receive psycho-social support and education on their options moving forward from assault and possible trial. The government will also expand its armed patrols to 24/7 along with the creation of a special operations team. The response letter includes a plan to draw more financial support toward these measures. The cabinet has approved these policies and has made clear they expect to follow through with urgency.
The Future of Gender Equality in Namibia
Namibia is certainly on the road to curbing sexual and gender-based violence. Already present in Namibia was the Gender-Based Violence Prevention Unit as well as counseling and education for women involved in gender-based violence cases. There is a willingness to change Namibian culture and the adoption, implementation and reform of policies concerning gender-based violence are essential to expedite the alterations.
The letter of response to the protests is a step in the right direction to a future of gender equality in Namibia. The end of gender-based violence is on the horizon with the youth spearheading this modernized movement joined by full cooperation of the Namibian Government.
– Lizzie Herestofa