ATTORNEY general Albert Kawana last week said gender-based violence (GBV) in the country has reached "embarrassing" proportions, and victims should be empowered to report such cases.
Kawana said this in Windhoek when he delivered the keynote address at the premiering of a documentary that encourages victims to report the crime and justice officials to handle cases with due sensitivity.
He added that he was criticised for "interfering in the bedrooms of our citizens" when he motivated a law against GBV in 2003 when he was justice minister, but still hoped that judicial intervention would end GBV.
"On the contrary, it is increasing daily. Following events in our country which are also linked to GBV, I feel embarrassed as a man, but I am proud to be part of a collective initiative by our government to address this scourge," Kawana said.
The Constitution, he noted, guarantees the equality of all persons and their dignity, and GBV must be eradicated because it violates victims' fundamental rights.
He said the government of Namibia has taken steps to address GBV, and gave the examples of national conferences, the national day of prayers against GBV, awareness campaigns, and capacity-building initiatives for stakeholders.
Additionally, president Hage Geingob and first lady Monica Geingos had also spoken out against GBV.
"Lately, the judiciary has taken steps to ensure that GBV is addressed, and addressed speedily. Stiff sentences are being meted out to discourage would-be perpetrators," the AG said.
"We can't give up now. Communities must be encouraged to report these crimes. Those who put pressure on victims to disregard the crimes committed against them must be made to face the full wrath of the law."
He also called for victim-friendly courts so that victims can testify in a safe environment.
Turning to the documentary, he said: "It should help us improve services to victims of GBV, and to educate members of the public on the dangers of forcing victims to withdraw serious cases. Victims should be educated on the protection available for them within the justice system so that they could not fear to give their testimonies, particularly during trials."
Prosecutor general Martha Imalwa told the gathering that one in three women in Namibia is in a violent relationship, but was quiet about it. She attributed this to a lack of faith in the system, and fear of reprisals.
"(As) the practitioners in the criminal justice system, we are ready to face the challenge. We are determined to do more with less. We want to bring that to an end," Imalwa stressed.
With the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Unodc)'s support, the prosecutor general's office, the justice ministry, the police and gender equality ministry, social workers produced the documentary which seeks to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.
In a speech read on his behalf by his deputy, police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga said GBV leaves many families mourning - robbed of their loved ones, who in most cases are in their prime.
Ndeitunga was optimistic that the documentary which depicts the good and the ugly of GBV victims' interaction with the criminal justice system offers lessons on good practice.
"Our magistrates, prosecutors, police officers and social workers should always be at the forefront of demonstrating that GBV is unacceptable," he stated.
He also announced that the police had finalised a draft national integrated crime combating strategy, and called for a formalised coordinated effort to combat crime.
"It is high time we as a nation adopt this strategy. The government alone cannot deal with crime, and the ongoing law- enforcement and criminal justice responses are inadequate", Ndeitunga said.
Gender equality deputy minister Lucia Witbooi said Unodc's support was timely, given that Namibia aims to reduce GBV cases from 33% to 20% by the end of 2025.
"We have developed the national plan of action on GBV, and the plan of action has five priority areas," she said, adding that the key priority was to protect the rights of survivors of GBV.
"We prioritised care, protection and dignity."
She also outlined various legal instruments to combat GBV in Namibia, and called for its implementation.
Unodc regional representative for southern Africa, Zhuleyz Akisheva flagged up cultural practices such as polygamy and patriarchy which continue to keep women in subordinate social positions while making them vulnerable to GBV.
She cited a survey conducted in 2012 by the Legal Assistance Centre, indicating high incidents of violence against many women and children in Namibia.
"It seems the situation has not yet improved," Akisheva observed.
She said the documentary highlights many contextual challenges experienced by most victims of GBV.
These include structural violence, stigma, harmful patriarchal gender norms, lack of power, and a plethora of detrimental customs.
"Some people don't report abuse due to stereotypes, cultural and religious beliefs that say they should not report their husbands for abuse", she continued.
Akisheva stated that GBV was endemic in the SADC region, but hailed SADC member states for developing and approving the SADC regional gender-based strategy and action plan on addressing GBV.
Unodc has supported one-stop centres and a Childline hotline in Namibia so that there is a proper referral system for victims of GBV towards achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) 5 and 16.
The mock trial depicted in the documentary is a first for Namibia.
The actors and actresses are real criminal justice officials, who include a magistrate, a prosecutor, police officers and social workers who deal with GBV cases in Namibia.
*Moses Magadza is communications officer at the Unodc regional office for southern Africa.