Namibia: Free Girls to Advance Namibia

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Over the past several months, The Namibian decided to dedicate resources to under-reported issues and places. The results from some of the topics and stories we chose shocked even those of us who believe we are comparatively well informed.

Child marriages and the subjugation of women under the guise of our beloved traditions and cultures stand out among issues that are perpetrated on a grand scale by society in general and good people (who mean well) in particular.

The most concerning factor is how too many Namibians at all levels of leadership – traditional, civil society, political, business and government – tolerate, have aided and abetted or turned a blind eye to one of the most pressing rights issues of our age.

Blatant sexual and gender-based violence has at least received a fair amount of attention.

However, reports of children from two to 18 years old being forced to marry men older than 25 barely draw a comment, let alone spark outrage compared to a corruption scandal of, say, N$5 million dollars.

Research and reporting on child marriages that took us to the Kunene, Kavango and Zambezi regions may jolt most who have adopted ‘modern’ and urban life. But the issue of a woman’s role being restricted to playing a supporting role for men remains prevalent.

Those who have embraced ‘modernity’ will view initiation rites for young girls (like olufuko in the Omusati region, and sikenge in the Zambezi region) as primitive or harmful because of the lockdowns, beatings and tugging of the labia minora that takes place.

But the reality is that those cultures or traditions continue mainly for the benefit of men.

If we want Namibia to be a better place for everyone, and to have a high standing among the world of nations, how can we treat half of the population as inferior to men?

Should culture and tradition not evolve to empower women with the full spectrum of civil rights and liberties accorded to men?

Why is it only women who are taken through initiations to learn ‘how to treat a man’, how to maintain marriage and even how to dress?

Initiation processes for boys, which often amount to circumcision, are mostly done to teach men how to be a strong head of the family. It’s a different kind of pressure to that which women go through, and it doesn’t seem to engender a cordial interaction between partners.

Even among the most educated and urban-based classes, a woman is viewed as abandoning her duties or family if she wants to advance her career through studies or other means – worse so if she has to leave home to another place. For a man, it is encouraged as an investment.

Such cultures, traditions and mindset as a nation overlook the fact that restricting women to the role of being subservient to men deprives Namibia of the talent and productivity to get ahead in a world powered by rapidly evolving knowledge and constant innovation rather than the brute force of the iron and industrial ages.

If Namibia is to harness its potential for advancement to the fullest, its citizens must first embrace the power of everyone to enjoy the same liberties and amenities.

Mothers should be empowered to be able to differ with the male dominance around them and help especially the girl child to be unshackled from outdated and suppressive traditional tendencies.

Boys and girls alike should be taught how to interact as equals in a civil manner; men should be able to navigate difficult conversations without settling an argument with violence.

If there is something that our series on under-reported issues teaches us, it is that our nation still has a long way to go and a lot of work to do.

Let’s get to work and do it.

Purposefully.

Our country cannot develop by keeping girls and women shackled in past prejudices and practices.

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