“I believe in education as an empowerment tool because an educated girl will not necessarily kill a baby” affirmed Dr Becky Ndjoze-Ojo at a Women in Leadership breakfast hosted by the Finnish Embassy this week.
The Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Innovation made these comments whilst stressing the importance for access to education for the girl child as vital for addressing crimes committed by women.
Sharing the same sentiments was Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Maureen Hinda who stressed the need for addressing the psychological needs of women to effectively mitigate baby dumping, illegal abortions but to mention a few. “We need to bring a human face to psychological trauma experienced by women who commit these crimes” she added.
The media was highlighted as a key stakeholder for effectively communicating and raising awareness on gender equality. Gwen Lister stressed the important role that the media can play in this regard by stating that a practical way is for journalists to intentional seek for a female voice on topical issues. She also talked about sexual harassment as barrier for gender equality and stressed that women in positions of influence are much needed voices on these issues because “nothing impacts women’s progress in life like sexual harassment”.
According to the UNICEF Representative, Rachel Odede, Namibia is making strides in combating mother to child HIV/AID transmissions, but the reality is that recipients of antenatal care are adolescents. “This is because even the age of consent for sexual intercourse across the globe is getting lower and there still exist challenges of harmful traditional customs that expose young girls to sex even before they reach the age of consent”.
The age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16 in Namibia and the Child Care and Protection act of 2015 is the only legal basis for doing away with these harmful gender unequal cultural practices, however it is yet to be enforced. Currently there is no legal protection in place for the Namibian child whether male or female.
Beauty Paulus, Owner of Fluffy Mellows and participant at the discussion expressed that sitting with women and discussing issues affecting woman was enlightening. “I realised that I did not know the depth of inequality we face as women in our every day to day lives. It was especially good to see the variety of issues being raised that all women have in common. The one thing I found very important was the issue of the psychological effects of the problems women face because we do not have a culture of talking about mental health in Namibia. So, more light should be shed on this issue” said Paulus.
Jenoline Goagoses, Owner of Jeno’s Kitchen also shared that these types of conversations need happen at grassroots level.
“Women in leadership should engage other women in Katutura for example because real inequality is more visible there in the form of abuse and unemployment. I acknowledge that women on top are trying to bridge the gender gap but there is still more to be done. As a young business woman, it has been challenging because start-ups require money and investors appear to be more confident in men because the questions around women entrepreneurs are fundamentally uninformed insecurities on whether the women will be able to continue driving the business or will she get pregnant along the way or will her family not get in the way. This makes it more challenging for women to flourish as entrepreneurs”.
The Deputy Head of Missions at the Finnish Embassy, Johanna Unha-Kaprali spoke about lessons from Finland on how education and awareness raising went hand in hand in addressing gender inequality.
“My government launched the International Gender Equality Awards last year and the first ever winner is Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for her commitment to women and girls globally”. The award is worth €150,000 and Merkel who is ranked as the most powerful woman in the world gave away the prize money to Niger-based group, ‘SOS Women and Children Victims of Domestic Violence’.
Overall, participants expressed gratitude that whilst political representation of women is a good thing, it needs to trickle down to grassroot level to achieve gender parity.
Further emphasis was placed on the need to include and engage men on gender equality.