Gender-based violence (GBV) is a human rights issue of endemic proportions in Namibia. One out of three women have experienced, or will experience, GBV in their lifetime. Furthermore, it is estimated that one out of five women are in an abusive relationship.
The two most common forms of GBV in Namibia are domestic violence and rape, both of which disproportionately affect Namibian women more than men (over 90 %).
Although women are the majority of victims, it is important to remember other vulnerable groups. In particular, members of the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community are subject to high levels of GBV in Namibia. Furthermore, 1 out of ten victims of GBV is a man. Sister Namibia envisions a society based on equality in which all people are able to enjoy a life free from discrimination and violence. GBV, no matter who the victim is, is a crime against human rights.
Sister Namibia aims to raise awareness on discrimination and destructive political, social, cultural, legal and economic practices, including gender-based violence. In order to get a better understanding of and to raise awareness on this issue, we have collected some basic facts and statistics about GBV in Namibia and made it accessible on our website. Furthermore, you will find links to other websites and research on GBV, plus legal documents relating to the issue, here.
Different forms of GBV
According to the National Gender Policy (2010-2020) from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare (MGECW), GBV “refers to all forms of violence that happen to women, girls men and boys because of the unequal power relations between them“. With this definition it follows that there is a wide range of violence that qualifies as GBV.
Forms of GBV include (but is not exclusive to)
- Domestic violence
- Sexual abuse and violence
- Sexual harassment
- Some forms of trafficking
- Forced prostitution
- Early and forced marriages
- Verbal abuse
- Economic violence
- Physical violence
- Psychological violence
The most common forms of GBV in Namibia are domestic violence and rape, followed by sexual harassment and forced marriages. As we provide further details on the issues of domestic violence and rape in Namibia elsewhere, we will only deal with sexual harassment and forced marriages here.
If harassment occurs in a domestic relationship, for example between spouses or between parents and children, the Combating of Domestic Violence Act provides remedy. According to the Act, harassment is the same as “repeatedly following, pursuing or accosting the complainant, family member or dependant of the complainant, or making persistent unwelcome communications”.
In the context of the workplace, the Labour Act 11 of 2007 prohibits direct or indirect sexual harassment of an employee in any employment decision or in the course of employment. Two types of sexual harassment are covered in the Act; conduct which the employee has indicated that he or she finds unwelcome; and conduct that any reasonable person would find unacceptable.
Furthermore, it is illegal for employers to engage in sexual harassment of their employees and employers should take reasonable steps to make sure that employees are safe from sexual harassment by their co-workers.
In the context of education, the Code of Conduct for the Teaching Service states that teachers may not become involved in any form of romance or sexual relations with a learner, nor sexually harass or abuse a learner. Likewise, learners must respect the dignity, person and property of teachers, other learners and members of the public according to the General Rules of Conduct for Learners.
Forced marriages are marriages performed under duress without the full consent or free will of the two parties. Duress may include physical and emotional pressure, trickery, deception, abduction, concession, fear and inducements.
Article 14(2) of the Namibian Constitution states that marriage shall be entered into only with free and full consent of the intending parties. Still, forced marriage is reportedly a practice in some communities in Namibia.
Furthermore. the Marriage Act 25 of 1961 sets 18 years as the minimum age for civil marriage, while the anticipated Recognition of Customary Marriages Bill is expected to apply the same minimum age to customary marriages. The forthcoming Child Care and Protection Bill will make it a crime to give a child in marriage or engagement without the consent of the child and the child’s parent or guardian.
According to the National Gender Policy (2010-2020) many cases of forced marriage involve young women being married to older men. Forced marriages can also take the form of “widow inheritance” which refers to the customary practice whereby a widow is compelled to marry a relative of the deceased husband. This practice is not necessarily problematic if it takes place with the full and informed consent of the surviving spouse, in the absence of any threats of physical or economic coercion – but unfortunately this is not always the case.
Forced marriages of children and vulnerable adults may involve one or more criminal offences, such as assault, kidnapping, rape or false imprisonment. The forced marriage of a child is a child protection issue because it can involve non-consensual and underage sex and emotional or physical abuse.
Prevalence of GBV in Namibia
In Namibia, gender-based violence is widespread and described as an epidemic problem. According to a police report, the most prevalent crime between January and April 2013 was rape, with 122 reported cases. According to a report by UNAIDS, there were approximately 1075 reported cases of rape nationwide for each year between 2009-2012. However, the actual number of rapes and other incidents of GBV is likely much higher as victims often choose not to report the crimes due to fear of reprisal from the perpetrator, family pressure, self-blame and/or societal stigma and discrimination.
Women and girls are overwhelmingly targeted by rape accounting for 92% to 94% of complainants in reported rape cases. Furthermore, one third of rape victims are below the age of 18 and approximately 30% of young women report their early sexual experiences prior to age 15 as forced.
The most pervasive form of GBV in Namibia is domestic violence perpetrated by an intimate partner. The vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women (86%) and most of these crimes are perpetrated by men (93%).
In a WHO report from 2005, one third of women in the study who had been or were in a relationship reported having experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. 31% of these reported physical violence and 17% reported sexual violence. Furthermore, 19% of the respondents had experienced physical violence by a non-partner since the age of 15 and 6% reported sexual violence by a non-partner. The perpetrators of physical violence included teachers (26%), boyfriends (28%), fathers (19%) and female family members (19%), while the most commonly mentioned perpetrators of sexual violence were boyfriends (55%).
Causes of GBV
Understanding the causes of intimate partner violence is a complex process since this type of violence is a product of its social context. Although GBV occurs in all socioeconomic groups, different researches concluded that GBV is more frequent and severe in lower groups of society. While poverty is one of the key contributors to gender-based violence, other factors such as the status of women, gender norms and alcohol consumption also contribute to the large-scale occurrence of violence.
An influential theory explains that the relation between gender-based violence and poverty is mediated through stress. Since poverty is inherently stressful, it has been argues that poorer households have fewer resources to reduce stress compared to households in the upper class. A study in South Africa support this theory. Women are protected from GBV in some of the poorest households, which are mainly supported by someone other than the woman or her partner. This indicates that financial independence of women can be protective in some settings, but not all. Households where women are the main breadwinner convey additional risk to being subjected to GBV. This shows that violence against women is not just seen as an expression of dominance over women, but also as being rooted in male vulnerability from social expectations of manhood. These expectations are not fulfilled due to factors such as poverty experiences by men. The fact that women challenge the exercise of power by men can be perceived as a threat to their masculine identity. Violence against women is in this case often a means of resolving the ‘female threat’ since it allows expression of power that is otherwise denied. Furthermore, societies where women have a low status, women often lack the necessary perceptions of self-efficacy and the social and economic ability to leave a relationship and return to their family or live alone. This in turn leads to them being severely curtailed in their ability to act against their abuser.
Alcohol consumption is another factor that is associated with an increased risk of all forms of interpersonal violence. Alcohol has shown to impair ability to interpret social cues, reduce inhibitions and to cloud judgment. Research on alcohol consumption suggests that connections between drunkenness and violence are socially learnt and are not necessarily universally applicable. Some researchers have noted that alcohol may act as a cultural “ time out” for antisocial behavior. This implies that men are more likely to act violently when drunk because they do not feel they will be held accountable for their behavior.
Effects of GBV
In the statistics we learn about the number of cases relating to gender-based violence which is reported to the police, but the statistics do not reveal the impact that this violence has on family members, the community and even the Namibian society as a whole. GBV is not a series of isolated events, but rather represents a pattern of behaviour that undermines the dignity, autonomy and security of the victims, limits their participation in society and damages their health and well-being.
GBV is a serious public health issue that affects the physical, mental and reproductive health of GBV survivors and their families.
Physical- common physical consequences of GBV include acute and chronic physical injuries and disabilities as well as homicide. Acute injuries include injuries to the head, face, ear, nose, eyes and teeth, neck, upper torso, and abdomen, with abrasions, lacerations, burns, fractures & homicide. Chronic conditions include headache, fatigue, chronic lower abdominal pain, function limitation and disability, chronic pain syndromes, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders and premature mortality.
Mental– mental problems caused by GBV range from low self-esteem and feelings of guilt to depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorders, phobias and panic disorders, obesity and anorexia, alcohol and substance abuse, aggression and violence, sexual risk taking and sometimes suicide.
Reproductive– rape and other forms of sexual violence can have negative consequences such as unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistulas, baby dumping and sexually transmitted infections including HIV and AIDS.
There is a clear mutually reinforcing relationship between GBV and HIV. Victims of GBV run the risk of being infected with HIV, and people living with HIV can also become victims of GBV simply because of their HIV status. According to a report by UNAIDS, women who experience violence in intimate partnerships face a four times higher risk of acquiring HIV, and HIV positive women report higher rates of intimate partner violence.
According to a report written by the LAC in 2012, in more than 1 out of 5 reported cases of domestic violence the victim reported that children had been harmed or threatened by the abuser. Children who grow up in homes where violence is present may suffer from emotional and behavioural health issues from witnessing one of their parents being abused. Growing up in an abusive and violent environment where violence is normalised can also create future perpetrators and victims as the children believes that this is how adult relationships work.
GBV comes at a great cost to individuals, communities and society at large. Besides physical and mental harm, victims of GBV might not be able to work due to injuries or other circumstances, affecting both his or hers personal economy through loss of income and increased healthcare costs. But GBV also affects the economy of society at large through lower productivity and reduced economic output and growth, leading to heightened pressure on social and health services.
According to a study by UNAIDS there is however currently no available data on the exact cost of GBV in terms of human suffering and economic indicators. There is no information available on either the direct costs (such as treatment and support for survivors, and trials) or the indirect costs (such as days of work lost by both the abused and the abuser).
GBV is not only a serious public health concern. It hinders the social and economic development of Namibia, and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.