FIFTY-THREE activists attended the launch of the #METOONAMIBIA movement in Windhoek yesterday, which seeks to provide support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
The movement, which originally started in the United States, gained momentum in October 2017 as a social media hashtag with the aim to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assaults and harassment, particularly in the workplace.
In Namibia, the movement will be jointly spearheaded by Regain Trust, Lifeline/Childline, the Namibian Women Lawyers Association, Nixon Marcus Public Law Firm, Bel Esprit, Slut Shame Walk, UNFPA, the Office of the First Lady, Namibia Coalition against Gender-based Violence, Sister Namibia, and the Legal Assistance Centre.
Speaking at the launch, Slut Shame Walk public relations officer Arlana Shikongo said the aim is to encourage survivors to be vocal about their ordeal while being protected and supported.
Shikongo was addressing the culture of fear and intimidation, which she believes is embedded in the Namibian social culture, and sometimes renders women voiceless when it comes to their experiences with sexual violence.
Namibia Coalition Against Gender-Based Violence founding member Alna Dall expressed disappointment at the majority of those accused of having committed sexual assaults being young men.
She said social media has given sexual assault survivors an opportunity to seek safety in numbers.
Dall said research showed that young men are constantly being exposed to images in the media which depict women's bodies as objects for sexual gratification.
"Rapists don't rape because they cannot get sex elsewhere. They rape because they are misogynists, sadists, and flourish in spaces where misogyny is justified as tradition, and manliness comes with a presumption of violence," she explained. Veronica Theron, an adviser and gender-based violence pillar leader in the Office of the First Lady, said close to 200 women and girls had come forward raising issues of sexual violence last week.
Although some of the cases date back, Theron said many were recent, with an estimated 40 perpetrators named. Meanwhile, Regain Trust project director James Itana said his organisation, together with LifeLine/ChildLine and Bel Esprit will offer psychosocial support services to survivors of sexual violence.
"As men, it is important that we recognise and acknowledge that sexual violence is an issue that not only affects women, but also directly affects men, for we are fathers, brothers, uncles and friends," Itana said.
First Lady Monica Geingos also attended the launch.