Transition towards gender equality - Namibia between the empowerment of women and violence of men
Since its independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has striven to implement formal gender equality by means of progressive laws and gender policies. Notwithstanding, since independence, violence against women has increased (MGECW 2010). This led to the research question about how the idea of...
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|Summary:||Since its independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has striven to implement formal gender equality by means of progressive laws and gender policies. Notwithstanding, since independence, violence against women has increased (MGECW 2010). This led to the research question about how the idea of gender equality has been perceived and put into action in people’s daily lives, as well as which factors are relevant to the understanding of the huge amount of violence perpetrated by men against women. A social anthropological field research in the small town of Outjo, situated in the Kunene Region, was conducted over a period of 14 months in total. Mainly qualitative research methods were chosen, such as semi-structured interviews with female and male research participants, participant observation, a group discussion, a Men’s Debate and a quantitative School Survey with qualitative elements were employed. An important finding of this study is that gender equality is ambiguously perceived and lived. On the one hand, many people support the idea of gender equality in theory. On the other hand, within families males are the heads of households and the decision makers. During the Men’s Debate, many men claimed that women and children no longer respect men nowadays, compared to the (colonial) past. Moreover, there were men who directly opposed gender equality and who demanded from the government its withdrawal. The research showed that gender is perceived very static and essentialistic. Masculinity and femininity are seen as God given or natural. It was found that hierarchical gender constructions are still prevalent: dominant masculinities and subordinate femininities are constructed, lived and reproduced. Young females as well as males are admonished when they behave in any way that deviates from the expected hierarchical gender norms, also by homophobic remarks. This prevents any significant shift towards alternative gender constructions. The female socialisation is linked to the search for a potential provider with an emphasis on beauty and performance, as well as their subordination to that man. Males have been socialised to play the dominant role of leader and independent decision-maker, suppressing weaknesses. The common commodified intimate relationships nowadays show that still hierarchical gender relations are lived. During colonial times women were de facto legally subordinate to men. Men were privileged over women as they had better access to jobs and thus to resources, leading to a pattern of commodified intimate relationships which remains common today. Here a male gives resources to a female who in turn grants him access to her sexuality, children and intimate relationship. Many people today live in informal commodified intimate relationships. In a context of widespread poverty many women are disadvantaged by early pregnancies and being solely responsible for children depending on a provider. If men cannot provide due to unemployment they might lose their intimate partner and access to children. The main trigger of conflicts for females was the widespread tendency for males to have multiple concurrent sexual relations. These affairs lead to serious conflicts, not least because males often have additional sexual relations without using condoms, thereby risking their steady partners becoming infected with HIV. However, men feel challenged if women question their behaviour. They feel a lack of respect and some react violently to enforce respect. The interviews revealed an ambivalent perception of violence. On the one hand, people feel that they are surrounded by violence, due to the high levels of violence in Namibian society and the detailed and at times sensational media coverage of it. On the other hand, it was found that there was a high degree of normalisation of violence which is linked to colonial legacies. Definitions of rape are in transition as well as ideas of corporal punishments due to legal changes. People often show little empathy towards victims of violence; instead, a profound Culture of victim blaming exists also among service providers such as police. Many women feel intimidated by the existence of widespread male violence against females and are thus restricted in their agency. Women who want to pursue their own interests are accused of not respecting men. It is concluded that it is necessary to go beyond formal gender equality and put into practice substantive gender equality to decrease violence against women. It is vital to make gender norms more flexible, direct males and females, and encourage dialogue and role exchange to increase mutual understanding and respect. Furthermore, it is essential for the encouragement of alternative gender constructions to combat homophobia. The pattern of commodified intimate relationships should be made aware in all its disadvantages regarding gender equality. Moreover, the legacy of the colonial Culture of violence against women needs to be addressed.|
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