Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all societies. Gender-based violence is violence directed against a person because of their gender. Both women and men experience gender-based violence but the majority of victims are women and girls.
Gender-based violence and violence against women are terms that are often used interchangeably as it has been widely acknowledged that most gender-based violence is inflicted on women and girls, by men. However, using the ‘gender-based’ aspect is important as it highlights the fact that many forms of violence against women are rooted in power inequalities between women and men. The terms are used interchangeably throughout EIGE’s work, reflecting the disproportionate number of these particular crimes against women.
It is said that if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor and it is with this in mind, that The Lounge engaged Vitalio Angula, a social and political commentator, Sean Kamati aka SeanK, musician extraordinaire and social activist and Stephen Bernardus Harageib, social worker currently employed at the Office of the First Lady as the education pillar leader.
The thought behind the engagement is focussed on dealing with how to get men involved in the gender based violence conversation and there are organisations in Namibia that seek to answer precisely this question.
The Office of the First Lady have been on the frontline of the fight against violence against women and provide counselling to perpetrators, victims and the survivors of violence as well as providing support for frontline service providers such as police, nurses, social workers, etc.
“Last year we launched the ‘Problematic Mindsets’ which was to explore some of the challenges that perpetrators, survivors and service providers face in the issues of GBV and how we can better understand some of the psycho-social drivers from those groups,” Harageib tells us about some of the efforts being made to overcome this scourge. “One of the key findings was that the drivers of GBV have to do with issues of patriarchy and male dominance; so it is how we socialise our young boys and girls and how that socialisation demonstrates itself in violence being perpetrated. Fatherlessness in the home is a big issue that has come forth, it occurs in people who have experienced some form of violence. Whether they have observed the violence or experienced the violence themselves, they may then become perpetrators of violence,” he says.
One of the issues agreed on in our talk was that the conversation has to be taken beyond GBV, thus giving us insight into what is the violence in our society, what is happening specifically in Namibia and what some of our historical and traditional issues are. It is by unpacking and understanding the root causes of our violent natures, that will allow us the opportunity to address those issues adequately, thereby resolving and mending this issue from the root.
“Coming from a very violent past, not having the opportunity to deal with our trauma, without having the opportunity for us to be able to understand and not confronting the historical trauma that people have faced, you will find that the cycle of violence continues to reverberate over and over in families, because nobody has broken that cycle. We have normalised violence to the point where we mostly speak about violence only when it is grievous bodily harm, as opposed to calling out violence when it starts from the verbal, emotional and psychological level and then we are surprised when the violence happens at the end,” Harageib says.
Angula contributed to the conversation, “I would not say everybody who has been a victim becomes a perpetrator because that would be to generalise. From a collective perspective, all men and boys are socialised more or less the same, but not all of them end up as perpetrators of GBV. We do have this problem in our society and it affects the collective so it is the responsibility of the collective to address the matter. As men in society we have not been given that outlet of self-expression, so we tend to hold things back until it eventually explodes, which is when have instances of gender based violence.
Looking at the root causes in the individual cases, we have to look at what the issues are that have led this man behaving in such a manner and what could have been done to mitigate those, so that he does not act out in that way. GBV is always the last scenario, it is after emotions have boiled over.
Men are not allowed by society to speak out for being called an ‘emotional man’ and being told that men should just keep quiet, meanwhile those unspoken issues keep boiling inside you until you act out.
We ought to give a space for men to also be able to speak.”
A point was raised that men are groomed in the role of being a provider, regardless of their circumstance. Women and society have certain expectations of a man and thereby further conform to the patriarchal thinking that is prevalent in Namibia.
SeanK is of the opinion that men are placed on a ‘pedestal’ by society, who expects them to attain levels of perfection that are simply unobtainable. “We need to realise that we as society have put this idea of ‘men’ on a pedestal and have created an unreachable definition of what men should be.
Of course, we live in a patriarchal society where everything that a man says, goes, but what is a man? Why have we defined men by these standards that can never be met 100% by any man? I think it is because of that shortcoming that men try to over-compensate by being dominant, by being violent or by being aggressive. Men are expected to be the protector, the provider; we are expected to be emotionless and to be there to take care of things, while being denied the right to be a person, first. We have put all these labels on men of what they should and should be able to do, but we have taken away from who men are.”
As the conversation continued, it became clear that this is an engagement that needs to be unpacked with inputs from all parties involved. Are women ready to be in a room with men, having them speak their mind from their experiences and point of view? Equally, are men ready to be in a room with women and feel comfortable with speaking their mind and not walk away feeling judged or misunderstood in their efforts to begin to change negative responses and interactions with women?
Urban speak and language around this issue can sometimes be a barrier to having these types of conversations. It is easy to become emotional and riled up as opposed to let’s logically and reasonably engage the conversation.
Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and are predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.