Living in Windhoek for 4 years allowed me to observe the gender equality progress  Namibia was making but recently I have witnessed, in whatever way I can, in the conversations and my writing to those unknowing and unaware of the silent femicide and violence that Namibians are protesting since early October. I witness those who seek an understanding of what has been happening in the country. 

Sexual and Gender-based violence and its fellow mobsters are a vicious cycle. It is a drop with long-reaching ripple effects. There is always a witness on the wall unable to do as much as they want to. It is the child who sees the violence, the forced motherless who mourn, the friend who weeps, the parents who are robbed, the realising female feeling unsafe and those bound by confidentiality.   The people on the wall, that is who came together for the #SHUTITALLDOWN protests that took place in Namibia. One can only live in survival mode for so long before they take to the streets.

Some of the interviewed protesters echo sentiments of a reality I also lived through, just not feeling safe as a woman. It is necessary for a friend, a colleague to take down the taxi number you go into in the case you do not get to your destination or are attacked along the way.  In fact, going for a jog is made uncomfortable by having to do it close to home or wearing baggy clothes to not draw much attention.  These are just a few examples of everyday life hacks women have had to adopt in the hope of not becoming a victim, evidence of the normalised brutality that is a prevalent reality

In addition to precautions women must take, the statistics support the gravity of SGBV in Namibia. Reports earlier this year said police were receiving at least 200 cases of domestic violence monthly, while at least 3 women were raped daily in the 18 months ending in June 2020. Further 1 in 4 women is a victim of intimate partner violence. These are significant figures considering Namibia has a total population of just over 2.5 million. 

While the data shows the country to have some of the highest numbers of SGBV, it has made significant strides towards closing the gender gap. The World Economic Forum (WEF) placed Namibia 12th in the world in terms of gender equality, second only to Rwanda on the continent. The WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report considers four key areas including economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health, and survival, and political empowerment. This is mainly as a result of the government adopting the National Gender Policy to promote gender equality; passing other laws to protect the rights of women, men and children; and running national anti-violence campaigns. Despite these interventions, the rate of violence is escalating, and the people are outraged. Some people believe these interventions are not addressing some root causes of the violence such as culture, dependency level and the general societal status of gender. It has been found that in communities where men are regarded as the dominant gender of society, the risk of gender-based violence is also very high in such areas.

The final trigger in the country was when news emerged that police believed to have found the remains of Shannon Wasserfall, a woman in her early 20s who had gone missing in April, in the dunes of the port town of Walvis Bay. Accordingly, in early October 2020 people took to social media to organise the #ShutItAllDown protests that took place in Windhoek and other Namibian cities. The protests were on one of the days met with tear gas, rubber bullets and 27 participants (some were journalists) being detained by members of the Namibian Police’s Special Field Force. They were later charged and released. On Monday 12 October they appeared before the Windhoek Magistrates Court where several protesters joined them to continue the protests. 

The demands continue to be for authorities to declare a state emergency over SGBV; consult experts on  SGBV to come up with an action plan; and prioritise the urgent review of sentencing laws for sex offenders and murderers, among others. In addition, the protests called for the resignation of Doreen Sioka, Minister of gender equality, poverty eradication and social welfare. In response, the government said it takes the issues seriously and will prioritise the petition. To date, there haven’t been any more protests and the Minister is still in her role, I guess we are still waiting.

We were never created to be silent observers especially when injustices are normalised by society. I am proud to be part of a generation that uses the power at their disposal (social media and numbers) and ensures they are heard. We will not fuel the culture of silence and ignorance; we will disrupt it all until we are heard. Less and less of my people will be found at the wall silently observing. 

 

Rebel Rouser Bubblehead is a poet, activist, aunt and sometimes an adult. She is an observer, a witness, a voice that writes what it has experienced.  Rebel whatever it takes to be comfortable in your skin. She is an African who wants to help heal the many wounds that run deep. Go here for more of her work.

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