International Women’s day this year was themed “be bold for change” and one cannot help but project it to the Namibian context. What would a bold nation look like in the fight against gender inequality? History was made in 2014 when the ruling party adopted a 50/50 party list that witnessed the largest number of women in parliament to date, however across the board despite women representation in political leadership having increased, it seems to have stagnated at the top whilst the rest of society remains covered in patriarchy and in all honesty, looks unsafe for the girl child to flourish
Gender based violence in Namibia is an evil in our society that has claimed and continues to claim the lives of Namibian women and children. Fact is we have a gender inequality problem in our country that needs bold men to stand up and acknowledge it actively alongside the efforts of women already paving the way.
Per the “HeforShe” campaign statistics, the biggest gender equality priority area in Namibia is violence, followed by work and education running parallel, thereafter identity, health and politics sitting last. The “HeforShe” campaign is a UN women initiative launched in 2014 with the aim to engage men and boys as agents of change by encouraging them to act against negative inequalities faced by women and girls. To date the campaign has been marred by criticisms especially from non-binary individuals who feel excluded from gender bridging efforts and find the “HeforShe” tag somewhat exclusive and that is a debate for another day, that in no way removes merit form the campaign whatsoever despite its own element of importance because non-binary individuals do exist and they too face discrimination that should be addressed. Further criticism of the campaign comes from some extreme feminists who do not particularly take well to the notion that ‘men should be for women’, claiming it takes away from years of work towards fighting for women to be recognised as equally capable. Nonetheless the merits of the campaign stand in that it recognises the root of gender inequality which is predominantly male.
The reality is we live in male dominated societies and whether we agree with it or not, it remains a fact that patriarchy is prevalent in all countries on the face of the earth. Hence the Namibian government, civil society and individual’s both male and female alike need to heed the message of “HeforShe” because if statistics reflect that the biggest priority area for gender inequality in Namibia is violence and we all know that most of the known perpetrators are men, it suffices to say that our men need to be re-educated on where their rights start and end when it comes to women. Gender based violence in Namibia is a frightening reality for women and if we have tea parties and pep talks with women only and do not sit the men and boys down as the perpetrators, we are fighting a losing battle. The second priority areas are education and work; according to the Economist’s latest glass-ceiling index (measures gender equality in the labour market), men earn 15% more than women globally. These findings reflect that women as a group earn only 85% of what men do. This means that men have more income disposable and opportunities compared to women for the same type and amount of work.
We live in a country where young girls in some rural areas drop out of school because of their menstrual cycle. And while condoms are freely available, pads and tampons are yet to be equally accessible. One can only commend the works of civil society such as efforts by Sister Namibia amongst others striving to address this issue by meeting the obvious needs of these girls. Not to mention the cases of young girls married of in traditional customs at a young age and while many of us experience a sense of shock when these stories break, we forget them as quickly as we hear about them, after all it is tradition. Any tradition, culture or religion that advocates for the disadvantaging of one gender at the expense of the other needs to be overlooked and human rights should be what must be strongly advocated for above such believes.
Identity is then ranked as a third priority area, however in my opinion it is at the root of why we have gender inequality in the first place. How a person views themselves eventually reflects in how they react to or treat others. Hence when we make the call for men to acknowledge that they are why women are disadvantaged, we need to be ready and willing to hold the mirror up to them so that they understand that it is pegged to their sense of identity. Interestingly government prioritised politics in attempts to bridge gender inequality and whilst it is commendable, it appears to not be a priority in Namibia, meaning that whether we have more women in parliament or not, does not seem to have a direct impact on bridging gender inequality.
I personally hold the view that it is a great stride as I am a big advocate for gender quotas, especially at parliamentary level, nonetheless what is visible at the top needs to trickle down to the bottom where the gender gap is most visible.
Of course, deconstructing the causes of gender inequality is a daunting task because it took years for society’s to be look the way they do today and they have been shaped by influences from culture, religion and traditions, however it is no excuse to brush away a ‘human rights’ issue as a mere feminist campaign. Acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recent book ‘Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’, focuses on teaching the girl child how to stand up for herself, which is great and empowering however yet again we are engrossed on positioning the girl child to always be fighting her way through life, whilst priority should be for the boy child to live at peace with her.
As a student in the diaspora, I love to talk about my country.
If patriotism had a face, I would probably be its poster child but on this issue called gender inequality, I often want to become like Peter was to Jesus and just deny the land of the brave three times over.
It is indeed progress that gender quotas are embraced by governments worldwide.
The future looks bright that education for the girl child is prioritised in many countries and we continue to celebrate women making strides of note in various spheres of influence, however society remains patriarchal.
And this explains why it is still outrageous for a mother to feed a child in public, however ‘public smoking’ spots are prioritised or it is not shocking that a woman is being slapped by a taxi driver in public and people opt to record the incident instead of intervening.
The list is endless; however, I take on the challenge to be bold and stand for women’s rights in my country and the world all over, for now it means calling all bold men to please stand up and actively pledge to become “HeforShe”.
Rakkel Andreas is currently an MA Development and Governance candidate at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. She holds an MA European and International Studies from Centre International de Formation Européen (CIFE) in Nice-France as well as BA in Media Studies and Political Science from the University of Namibia