Established in 1989, Sister Namibia has been one, if not the, non-governmental organisation dealing with gender equality issues in Namibia. In a country with a tiny population of just over 2 million people, Namibia has a long way to go when it comes to women and children’s rights and Sister Namibia is at the forefront of that fight appealing to the public, government and other organizations to lend their support.
At the end of 2013, as part of the international 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence Campaign I had the special opportunity to travel around Namibia and speak to people about gender rights when it came to domestic abuse. As I am new to Sister Namibia seeing the problem from the ground level was an eye opening experience that I am surely not to forget in the near future. What struck me the most during this trip was how normalized domestic abuse has become in this country.
With us we had three extraordinary actors who lent their time and efforts to perform three skits for the groups we saw illustrating situations of abuse and gender based violence. The audience, instead of being shocked by the happenings on stage, laughed and clapped during the particularly violent parts of the skits. I wondered whether this was simply nervous laughter or did they genuinely find it funny. If the answer is the latter then the psychology of domestic abuse runs deeper than we think and efforts must now be focused changing a mode of thinking that has become the status quo. This chilling thought was further instilled in me when we performed the exact same show for a small-town police station. I happened to be sitting in the audience next to a male police officer who said “He must just hit her”. He said this at the climax of the show where the husband, stressed from the day to day pressures of life comes home to his wife who is equally as stressed. The couple begins to argue but the difference with our show is that we wanted to change the exceptions where that situation would end. Instead of hitting his wife the man opted to talk about their issues. Needless to say the police officer sitting beside me was baffled. Make no mistake the Namibian Police Force is comprised over many hard working men and women who provide safety for many but evidently there are still many gaps in the system.
So where do we go from here? Equality has always been a slow and steady struggle and Namibia is no exception. With the aid of others, Sister Namibia will continue to try and address these problems most importantly at the grass roots level. Public debates and forums are to come in the hopes of giving people the information they need to protect themselves and provide a violence free world for their loved. Though Sister Namibia has been dubbed a feminist organisation I personally believe that that is an over-simplified definition. We can strive for equality if we do not involve our male counterparts. Isolating men only widens the gap even further. Therefore many of our projects include outreach to men and boys to see that using fists is never an option but rather mutual respect and understanding are the keys to breaking the cycle of violence.