Agency


Our mission statement declares that, “Sister Namibia wants to inspire and equip women to make free choices and act as agents of change in our relationships, our communities and ourselves.”

Everyone knows what making free choices means, but when I look at the types of relationships that women enter with men, I am certain that many women do not understand what being (an) “…agent(s) of change in (a) relationship…” really means.

The term “agency” typically refers to 1) control over resources, 2) the person’s ability to move freely, 3) decision making over family formation, 4) freedom from the risk of violence and 5) the ability to have a voice in society and influence.

The opposite of agency – in its extreme form – is being a victim; Someone who is at the mercy of others, or to whom something happens without that person having an influence in the matter.

A publication[1] cites inter-generational sex, multiple and concurrent sexual partners of men specifically, inconsistent condom use, and transactional sex as major drivers of HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies in Namibia.

Interviews conducted with young girls revealed that the biggest fear of school-going girls is “falling” pregnant. We in Namibia are familiar with the “fact” that pregnancy, especially of young women, is something that “happens” to one.  The implication of this is that women have no influence or responsibility in reproductive matters. Men decide that they would have unprotected sex with women and women accept this – sometimes are shocked and dismayed at the unwanted pregnancy or undesired STI that may result. One often hears women in Namibia stating that she has to “give” a man a child or that she has to be able to “produce” if she is to remain attractive to men. A woman who cannot “produce” a child for a man, is not worth anything.

Granted that too many women are coerced/ cajoled into compromising sexual relationships in Namibia, it is necessary to ask why so many women, in consensual relationships with men, are delegating agency – ie, the responsibility for one self – so easily when it comes to sexual relationships? Agency as responsibility would dictate that women can and do negotiate about the terms of their relationships with men. Not only that they negotiate the terms, but that we actively take all steps necessary to prevent falling pregnant or contracting/ spreading a disease.

Common knowledge dictates that men are not reliable, that they are selfish and that they are merely interested in showing their sexual prowess, which, for many, involves proving their “manhood” by having “fathered” – read spawned – x number of children by as many women. In this context, it becomes imperative for women – and women alone – to know the risks, to make a conscious decision to either become pregnant or not.

As far as the transmission of STIs and HIV is concerned, it is here that the woman’s agency should be non-negotiable in a relationship. She should not make any compromise to her DEMAND for safety and her insistence on the use of a condom. No amount of cajoling and sweet talk should convince her otherwise.

As a responsible women’s rights organization, it is necessary that we interrogate structural issues that render power over women to men. However a responsible and responsive women’s organization will also have to explore the ways in which women connive and delegate power to men. Therefore, this is not an attempt to blame women for unwanted pregnancies or the prevalence of HIV in Namibia, merely, it is a call for women, specifically young women, to become aware of the responsibility that they have towards themselves – if to no one else – and to TAKE agency – as responsibility and control,  over their sexuality and their rights.

If we don’t do it, no-one else will.


[1] HIV/AIDs in Namibia: Behavioral and Contextual Factors Driving the Epidemic, Ministry of Health and Social Services