11 December 2012

Namibia: Women Still Suffer Inequality and Violence

WOMEN’S Day, which was commemorated yesterday, celebrated the achievements of women in social and economic aspects of life.

Despite a number of achievements, women still face economic and social inequalities and gender violence.

A study conducted by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) shows that gender-based violence remains one of the pertinent issues women face.

The study highlights 1 122 protection order applications from 19 magistrate’s courts across the country. In the year 2008 alone, more than 1 000 applications for protection orders were recorded, which means that at least three protection orders were issued a day for women who face life-threatening violence from their partners or spouses.

Protection order details were alarming, it said. “One respondent threatened that he would kill the complainant, set her on fire and then kill himself. Two threatened to cut the complainant’s head off, one said that he would cut the complainant’s breasts off, and one said that he would put out the complainant’s eyes. One threatened to cut the complainant open with a saw, and one said he would burn down her house with her inside,” the study reported.

Most of these cases were reported in urban areas. Long distances from the court, a lack of awareness of the law or reliance on extended families or traditional authorities to deal with domestic violence could be the reasons why reported domestic violence cases remain lower in rural than in urban areas.

Only one in ten victims of domestic violence lays a criminal charge against the abuser, according to the LAC study, and one in five complainants withdraws her application before obtaining a final order.

“We are not sure why this happens. Some apparently reconcile with their abusers, which could mean that the interim order alone was sufficient to stop the violence. But it is likely that some complainants are threatened or intimidated into abandoning their attempts to get a protection order. There is no provision for follow-up by social workers either. So some domestic violence victims may be left at the mercy of their abusers after they try to reach out for help,” said the study.

Other issues the LAC highlighted are child maintenance and the problem pregnant employees face by not getting extended maternity leave.

First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba said at a recent debate on promoting gender equality that studies estimated that one in three Namibian women experience domestic abuse, adding that rape, particularly affecting young women, remains high.

“When we turn our back on a woman who is being beaten, we may as well have handed the abuser the stick he uses to beat her with,” she said.

Pohamba added that some women make themselves guilty of perpetrating violence when they dump babies. “No woman should ever feel that her prospects are so limited that her only option is to dump her baby. Every baby dumped in Namibia is a precious life lost,” she said.

Veronica de Klerk of Women’s Action for Development highlighted the need for women to occupy the highest positions in the corporate sector of Namibia. She added that this should also take place in parastatals, schools, universities, churches and in the government.

In agreement with her, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, at a recent inauguration of the Gender Equality and Child Welfare building in Windhoek, revealed that the majority of government employees are women, but men still occupy the executive position. He said that must change.

De Klerk further called on women to unite and become more assertive in speeding up the process of gender equality in Namibia.

She urged privileged women to help rural women who find it difficult to fend for their families.

De Klerk said the causes of baby dumping, domestic violence and “passion killings” stem from the family home. She said according to media reports about 40 dumped babies are discovered every month.

“Talks on sexuality from parent to child should no longer be a taboo, but rather one that parents, schools and churches should debate to seek solutions to this mammoth challenge in our society,” said De Klerk.

She added that mothers should talk to their children about sexuality to ensure that their daughters know how to protect themselves when they leave home. “This is our duty to prevent unnecessary disasters due to ignorance,” she said.

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