Visibility and awareness help the drive for positive change and it is for this reason that women are celebrated internationally on 8 March annually. Around the world, International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity for groundbreaking action that can truly drive greater change for women.
It is in this vein that this year will be celebrated with the theme “Be Bold for Change”, which calls on every individual to be responsive and reasonable leaders in creating a more gender inclusive world. The World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap will not close entirely until 2186, which is too long to wait. Therefore, it is necessary for an inclusive drive for greater change for women.
In celebration of the International Women’s Day, The Patriot spoke to a few Namibian women to hear what they make of the day as well as their take on the fight for gender equality.
Ndiitah, as she is affectionately known, is the Chief Executive Officer at Namibia Trade Forum and she says Women’s Day means lot to her.
She believes Women’s Day celebrates the women of the world as “we strive towards inclusive growth and prosperity for all and equality”.
“We reflect on the status of women in the world and we need to ask ourselves many questions such as what elements of our economic systems perpetuate inequalities particularly, why women are largely excluded from meaningful decision-making when their participation benefits everyone,” she noted.
In answering some of these questions, she mentioned that it is imperative to appreciate that half of the citizenry of the world cannot be systematically disadvantaged by outdated social institutions and dogmas. Ultimately, women and men are equal and this is a fact.
This month Nghipondoka-Robiati will form part of the Baha’I’ International Community’s delegation to the 61st United Nations Commission of the Status of Women themed “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”.
She commends the advancements that Namibia has made through the leadership for implementing deliberate efforts to reduce the gender gap. “It means that I am certain that we will continue to promote these initiatives at the regional and international platforms,” she explains.
Nghipondoka-Robiati also notes that looking at where Namibia ranks internationally, it only makes sense that the trajectory already set will enable Namibia to reach parity in the next generation.
“I actually observed that the new boards being appointed in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Enterprise (for parastatals) have an almost equal representation of women and men. But for quorum purposes 50/50 makes it impractical. However, I see that private sector is still heavily male dominated and I would not like to see another legislation being amended to enforce this but that they emulate the government in this regard,” she said.
She points out that the social structures such as the role of mothers and age-old traditions of perceiving certain roles as being male or female occupations hinder women from taking up leadership positions, making it clear that the education of the girl child should be prioritised in order for systematic changes to take place. “When we have more educated mothers, the more empowered will be the next generation,” she said.
In order to help the gender agenda progress, she called for deliberate policies that will ensure capacity building and mentoring for women.
“Ultimately, we need to believe that there are no inherent deficiencies in us as women when it comes to the business environment. As I mentioned above, our participation in decision-making benefits the entire spectrum of society.”
She made it clear that the perception that “gender quotas are a way to wheelbarrow women” into leadership positions is in itself a reflection of the road that must still be travelled. However, she believes that no matter what the perception is women must start somewhere. “Through processes of review and assessments this system will refine itself in time.”
Basson-Namundjebo is a business women and the Managing Director of Oxygen Communications. She regards the International Women’s Day as an important day to stand still and to look and evaluate critically whether Namibia is really achieving anything in terms of making its economies more equal, making its societies more equal, making homes more equal and making relationships more equal.
“This is also a day to ask questions such as are we really gaining anything from 47% of women in the National Assembly, for example? What’s the point of having those women in the National Assembly if it doesn’t impact, in a direct manner, the life of a Namibian girl child?” she emphasized.
Basson-Namundjebo highlighted the need for Namibia to at least try and get to be the first in Africa, adding: but “we shouldn’t just do it because we want to be number one in something”. “We should challenge ourselves to do better and I am not sure if we do better by going from number three to number one, I think that is a very superficial statistic to say that we are number three in Africa because I don’t think we are number three across all the sectors where women are represented in the Namibian society. I think it is number three in as far as the Namibian legislature is concerned.
Regarding gender parity, Basson-Namundjebo asked what it means first and foremost. “Is it for every one man there is one woman in business, for every one man there is one woman in government. And am I treated the same as a male person, are conditions enabling me to flourish in a country like Namibia so that I can be taking on the challenges like a man.”
“So if we can eliminate all these barriers whether they are cultural, whether they are systemic, whether they are legislative then maybe we can achieve it sooner but I probably think that we will do worse than the 79 years projected,” she added.
Basson-Namundjebo is of the opinion that 50/50 gender parity must happen as women are undermined because of their gender. Men sit in meetings and decide what needs to happen for women, while women are not part of it. Women should not be mere beneficiaries of development plan but active participants. She also pointed out that men cannot plan for women because there are realities that are unique to women.
She said the reason why there are very few women in leadership is because women who are in management are hindering them because women who go to the top want to be the only ones at the top, they do not want to bring other women up. Women need to head hunt other women for top positions.
“I am not in support of gender quotas for the simple reason that it undermines the individual. I think that women have individual qualities and now my qualities may be overseen because you are more interested in my gender and not what I bring to the table. There should not be long discussions about equality because it is a fact of life and from there we should just continue to do life like that.”
Basson-Namundjebo is against the artificial quotas, saying the reason why artificial quotas are imposed is because men will not open up. “So, through a policy you say thou shalt but they just meet the number and they don’t meet the spirit of that specific requirement, for example.” So, value the human being not just quotas, she added. “I understand the value of quotas but I am generally not for quotas, I am generally for inclusive development,” she said.
Playing a part in achieving gender parity, Basson-Namundjebo says, goes back to the basic fabric of society, that is, the youngest Namibian girl child. She says that she has, for a long time, focused her engagement in the country when it came to the issue of women development on the teenage girl child. “I now work with kids who are eight and nine years, because if I can influence that child to believe that she can, to have a correct image of herself I believe you mould her for better success in life,” she explained.
“My mentoring philosophy at the moment completely changed how I look at it. Yes, of course, there are other interventions where I am involved, such as, the distribution of sanitary towels to the Namibian girl child in schools. That will remain a passion of my heart because I feel we need to look at the system and one of the systemic challenges for girls is to remain in school to do as well or better than the boys. I just want the girl child to be afforded the same opportunity as the boy child. There needs to be an understanding of the unique challenges to girls to be women.
“We need to accelerate what we are doing; we need to act with haste hence the theme “Be Bold for Change”. The catalysts who speak up for women should continue to speak and not allow other women’s rights to be compromised while you are part of the power clique,” she concluded.
Julia Muetudhana Elia
Muetudhana believes that women’s day needs to be celebrated saying that it has made strides in the world of working modern times. She also acknowledges that women have been challenged by inequality in the work place and cultural practices which has prohibited women to advance in society. “Some of these practices have restricted women entry in participation in the workforce which consequently led to poor status over the nineteenth and twentieth century,” she emphasized.
“In Namibia we pride ourselves with the government agenda that has prioritized women development and women appointments in executive positions that influence change and make major policy decision in our country,” noted Muetudhana.
She also thinks that Namibia has the potential to improve regarding its current position stating that Namibia has become deliberate, and strategic in implementing and addressing gender parity which has changed the status quo in women representation in top positions. “Currently women constitute 39 percentage of managerial positions and therefore there is still a lot to be done in advancing women managerial positions,” she explained.
Muetudhana also sees the potential of achieving gender parity in less than 79 years, as stipulated by the World Economic Forum saying that Namibian policies which measure progress in terms of gender are present. “I think the challenge is to ensure that we address the stereotypes and prejudices against women that constitute the influence of employment decision and also to make sure that our development programs are very inclusive in terms of gender parity especially at the grass root level women.”
She also pointed out that it is important to understand that the lack of women in leadership positions is a universal issue and it is a global challenge. The talent pool that women can draw nominees from is very small compared to their male counterparts that are standing at 51 percent. These statistics should not deter us because they open a window for us to have gender parity and to groom women to develop, she said.
She also highlighted that there is a need to look at quality and applicability of the tertiary institutions and question whether there are skills, in terms of tertiary education, that students are studying for aligned to realities because it is a fundamental problem in the country. She also stated that there is a concern on what women are studying to address the business gaps. “From a talent perspective, an undergraduate and graduate education is an important input in deciding to hire fresh talent. So, if our women are misaligned in terms of business needs then they will always be in the minority and I think it is something that we can address,” explained Muetudhana.
The other contributing factor that is leading to a few women in leadership positions, she says, is that in the corporate world there are gender-biased imaginary roles that exacerbate the problem. Current reality is that core departments are headed by men and this paves the way for more men to be appointed as CEO because they understand the business better. As long as women are heading non-core departments, we will not solve the problem. As a result, the work environment is tailored in such a way that it is not conducive to work in terms of long working hours, and excessive travel – which discourages women. We need a leadership environment that is gender neutral.
She says that there is a need to have a virtuous cycle of women role models who inspire and mentor other women to aspire for top jobs giving examples of other phenomenal women in the country such as Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, First Lady Monica Geingos, Kauna Ndilula, and Ally Angula, among others. She suggests an inception of a school where these women can be mentored on how these ladies can be groomed how to make it and perform in top positions.
Muetudhana deems gender quotas as a stereotyping statement because no one ever has a problem when men are promoted. She said people need to follow the principle that what one cannot measure they cannot manage and to be deliberate about promoting women into leadership positions.
“We need to look at a winning formula on promoting competent women in these positions. Several studies have shown that improving representation of women in senior roles makes for better decision making and several studies have shown that that companies with diverse leadership tend to outperform the market,” she said.