The rate of sexual and gender-based violence in Namibia is so high that women fear walking down the street to catch a taxi to and from work, that women fear going outside for a breath of fresh air, that women fear to go for a jog or run. That it is almost impossible to not live in a state of constant anxiety as a woman in Namibia. Namibian women’s lives are constantly under threat of harassment, violence, abduction or death!
Open a newspaper or turn on the TV or radio any day, you will be met with traumatising news of yet another murder, another rape, another abduction. When will Namibian women live in a society where their lives are valued, their consent respected, their vulnerabilities aren’t exploited, their bodies aren’t constantly harassed, sexualised, violated, disrespected and disregarded? When will enough be enough and when will the citizens of Namibia take a definitive stand to protect and empower women in Namibia? When will we see more sentencing, when will bail be denied, when will society stop slut-shaming women, stop victim-blaming women and start holding men accountable for their toxic and violent ways, instead of protecting them and making excuses for them?
Rape culture in Namibia was made blatantly visible when the MeToo Movement launched in Namibia. Instead of being met with empathy and support, most women experienced victim shaming and blaming, which is notorious for deterring women from reporting SGBV cases. Are the leaders and citizens of this nation going to idly stand by as the violation of human rights, women’s rights and femicide is perpetrated? When will enough be enough?
Over a week ago a man walked into a Pick n Pay grocery store in the middle of the day and physically violated a female teller, in open view of other employees including the security guards and other patrons. One has to wonder how comfortable and untouchable Namibian men must feel to be able to openly perpetrate violence against a woman, then proceed to the checkout teller and go on about your day cavalier.
Earlier this month, ruling party politicians Bonifatius Wakudumo of Kavango East, Ottilie Shinduvi the Kavango East Swapo coordinator and Damian Nakambare of Nkurenkuru constituency stood in solidarity with one councillor, Michael Shikongo accused of assaulting an elderly woman until she coughed blood. This solidarity sent a silent message to the masses that it’s okay to side with perpetrators, and it only amplifies the continued injustices that Namibian women face on a daily.
Politicians standing in solidarity of people accused of violence against women should be strongly condemned. Deadly violence perpetrated by men in society rears its ugly face time and time again, destroying all in its wake while remaining unscathed with a room full of people cheering them on. This often leaves victims feeling disempowered and deters victims and survivors from reporting cases of violence and breaking their silence. Siding with perpetrators sends a message to survivors and the public at large, it perpetuates harmful sexual and gender-based violence myths.
The reality is we live in a society that creates the perfect environment in which victims struggle to survive while perpetrators thrive.
Cultural influences are a challenge. Thes include; gender norms, the media’s portrayal of women as objects, religious belief systems that perpetuate the vilification of women and the general rhetoric about sexual and gender-based violence.
Sexual and gender-based violence isn’t condemned as loudly as it should be, perpetrators are let off the hook by society too quickly. The cycle of abuse repeats itself from the highest level of society down to ordinary citizens. The culture of victim-blaming and shaming is not only upheld by everyday Namibians but also by those holding high ranking leadership positions.
The subjugation, oppression and objectification of Namibian women is visible in various levels of society. It is evident in laws like the apartheid-era Abortion and Sterilisation Act that police women’s right to choice regarding reproductive health and bodily autonomy. We experience it through policing women’s bodies by trying to control how they should dress like the Namibian Police Inspector General in 2013. It makes itself known when it is the norm to have 3936 reported rape cases and 209 domestic violence-related deaths over four years, not to mention the cases that go unreported.
But Namibia isn’t the only African country that struggles with breaking the cycle of violence that plagues African women, with the consistent murders of South African women being referred to as a secondary pandemic alongside COVID-19 by president Cyril Ramaphosa. A report by a UNFPA in 2019 revealed that about 80 million Nigerian women were still victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Throughout Africa, the rate and statistics themselves are traumatising.
A protest sign from South Africa #AmINext/Shutterstock image
To combat sexual and gender-based violence in the African continent, a radical shift needs to occur in terms of respecting women, protecting women and upholding women’s rights which are human rights. African governments need to work towards preventative measures as well as tipping the scales of power, access to education and such empowerment.
Citizens of the African continent need to engage in some serious introspection to identify their personal behaviours that might contribute to the culture that perpetuates sexual and gender-based violence and start making the necessary changes. African men need to start holding each other accountable and calling each other out to keep each other in check.
It starts with the little things like not ascribing to “bro code” notions that declare that men should defend each other and protect each other even when they’re wrong. It starts with respecting women’s bodily autonomy and not allowing your male friends to slut-shame and degrade women. It begins with not entertaining or making excuses for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence. Believe women and offer social support when they name perpetrators. Various, seemingly small behaviour and psychological changes can go a long way in saving a woman’s life. It starts with you.
Feature photo: Rich T Photo / Shutterstock.com
Beauty Boois is a writer, cultural worker and performance artist. She studied Clinical Psychology at the University of Namibia, Yoga Psychology at Yoga Vidya Gurukul in India and English as a Foreign Language in Cambodia.