8 March 2018

Namibia: Survival of the Fittest for Women At DRC

Just walking home from work, church or school is a safety risk for women and girls living at Swakopmund's DRC informal settlement.

"It is literally survival of the fittest here. Women are vulnerable, and the men know it and use every opportunity they can to take advantage of us," said Fiona Uiras, who assists women in trouble in the shantytown.

Besides having to deal with verbal threats of rape and murder, she also tries to assist other women who have to deal with similar fears.

She said when she moved to the DRC about 10 years ago, a neighbour realised that a few women were sharing a shack, and allegedly threatened them with kidnapping, rape and murder. Reporting this to the police fell on deaf ears. Although the neighbour left a long time ago, such threats remain common in the settlement, Uiras added.

Another woman who lives in the DRC, who asked to be identified only as KM, said a group of women walking home from church last Sunday were attacked by 'tsotsis', and robbed of their cellphones and handbags.

"When one wanted to scream for help, they pulled out a knife and told her that if she screamed, she would die," KM related. "Sometimes, I think it would be good for women to be armed to protect themselves."

Florence /Khaxas of Y-Fem Namibia, a gender activist group, said although sexual harassment and violence against women was a global phenomenon, it was especially bad in black communities.

"I don't trust black men," she said, adding that as a single black woman, she has to brace for improper, embarrassing and sometimes violent advances from men.

Most women in the DRC have to walk home, but many who take taxis are dropped off on the outskirts of the settlement because it costs more for the taxi to have to navigate through the shacks. This leaves women in vulnerable positions, where they have to traverse groups of men and shebeens, which are not safe to pass on weekends, month-ends and at night.

"The drinking aggravates it. There are many bars here, and one is forced to walk past them. And it is not just coming home. Many women and children still have house work to do when they get back - like fetching water at night, and many times the water canisters, trolleys and even water vendor cards get stolen. What can we do?" Uiras asked rhetorically.

And it does not stop there. Many women in the settlement are in abusive relationships.

"Sometimes the husband thinks he is the head of the house, and the wife has no rights. There are many single women, and men find their way into their hearts, and into their houses, and then things change. They take over, and the woman suffers mental, emotional and even physical abuse. And children also suffer, if they are there," said Uiras, who cares for her eight-year-old niece who allegedly comes from such a home.

"We report the cases, and the police give us case numbers. That is where it stops; no investigations or arrests. The social workers stay in their offices, they do not come here to check. The church people are also only helping those who are married," she stated.

Although The Namibian had an appointment with about eight women from the DRC, only two attended the meeting. One of the issues perpetuating the abuse and violence is that most women are afraid to speak out and being identified.

"This is what we are trying to deal with, but we are not getting enough support. We need to expose what is happening to women every day," said Uiras.

One way of creating awareness will be a march at Swakopmund today, which is international women's day. It will be part of the 'One Billion Rising' global campaign, which was originally established on Valentine's Day 2012. This year, Namibia will join the movement to unite Namibians to rise against violence against women and children.

The march will take place from the corner of the Namib High School and Daniel Tjongarero Street to the Swakopmund amphitheatre from 12h00 to 14h00. The official event will take place at the amphitheatre, and will include testimonies, performances and music.

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