Sunday 18 April 2021
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Olufuko: What’s in it for the girl child?

Cultural identity has become a key public issue, this awakening although positive is being politicised and backward looking as far as women are concerned.
Let’s not forget history, that many things have been advanced in the name of culture even to the denigration of the dignity of other persons. Let’s take the Olufuko cultural festival, as an example. First, Aawambo people need to celebrate their heritage and place in a multicultural society as Namibia. Secondly, the youth should be reminded not to forget where they come from and wear that identity with great pride.
Thirdly, there is need to preserve our cultures and even defend them against forces that seek to abrogate them and assimilate us into an empty oneness.
However, in as much as culture is positive and a reminder of our heritage, it’s not written in stone. Culture is dynamic and every culture should come to a point of revising some of its practices that are harmful or potentially harmful. Sadly, many African cultures have failed to do such introspection of harmful practices – especially as far as women and girls are concerned.
As a theologian and ethicist many would think I’m part of the bandwagon of people who are throwing the mud of ‘Olufoko is satanic or demonic.’
I somehow disagree with that analysis. Olufuko rather than being a satanic practice is being practiced in a way that is socially not advancing the girl child but enhances cultural beliefs that intentionally minimise the role of the latter to nothing more than a domestic work material.
The present Olufuko ‘ideology’ fails to see the perspective of many who are opposing it, that it’s not an opposing of the Aawambo culture but an aspect of it that clearly doesn’t add value to the girl child.
Instead of parading the girl child as initiation into womanhood, this should be used as opportunity to educate her to adjust to modern ways of life. Educate them to become academically empowered and become meaningful contributors to society like their male counterparts.
Rather than telling them about becoming women, provide them with the modern means of living as women that will provide newer insights into their culture by becoming part of the global innovators and changers of society.
As far as the Olufuko practice is concerned, in as much as it celebratse the cultural wealth of the Aawambo people, I should ask: “What’s in it for the Girl-child?” Sadly, not much, and to put it bluntly – nothing. Instead, what Tate Nujoma and many of the elite political, business and community leaders are advocating for is a cultural practice to which they themselves aren’t committed enough to have their own daughters and granddaughters participate. It’s a cultural practice which the elite Aawambo people consider as substandard and suited for the rural, poor and ignorant village girls. It’s a practice worth holding Gala dinners for, only with the elite, in the absence of the poor families who should come to parade themselves. How cultural is that?
Shouldn’t the proceeds of such events be used to ensure that these girls are given a chance to access quality education? Should these proceeds be used to create empowerment of rural women?
When we think that our culture needs to be preserved but at the cost of exploiting the poor, such cultural practices have no place in a modern society and is hurting our women further. Let’s not forget that women, Black women, suffered under the colonial system for the colour of their skin and for the mere fact of being women (both from colonial masters and their own cultures). The effects of this marginalisation continue to haunt many women today. And cultural practices that continue to put women in positions of being objects of wealthy elite men, only continue to advance this history of objectification and dehumanisation.
The greatest embarrassment is not the politicians but those who failed to be the voice of reason, in defense of these girls.
When people who ought to know better, fail to defend women against such exploitation for political expediency, history will judge us harshly. Africans have culture, we’ve always had culture. To oppose harmful habits in our cultures isn’t being anti-culture but a quest for justice.
There are many who are behaving as if they’ve not benefitted from cross cultural adaptations, just so the Aawambo girl child must remain subjected to archaic practices. Truth be told, there are many Namibian men who still see women as objects and the present Olufuko practice serves to affirm this objectification. Girls being paraded and marked off like cows for auction, to pleasure the predatory eyes of men, isn’t culture, but a turning of girls into mere trophies of pleasures.
Finally, we should by all means pursue our cultural identities and preserve them. However, cultural rites that are exclusively aim at objectifying the poor defeats the whole idea of embracing one’s culture.
The Olufuko practice undermines our common efforts to lift the girl child. It reduces girls into celebrated objects of wealthy politicians, businessmen and traditional leaders. There’s nothing in it for the girl child except objectification – that’s not culture but dehumanization.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are my personal expressions and do not represent the views of IUM or its partners.

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