The invisible gender ministry

16 December 2016
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare has largely been an invisible and voiceless entity during 2016, and therefore deserves an F grading.
Her detractors can be forgiven for thinking that Minister Doreen Sioka is asleep behind the wheel of this critical ministry.
As we all know, the country is plagued by gender-based violence (GBV). According to police statistics, a shocking 2,151 GBV cases were reported between January and November this year.
Of these, 1,038 were rape cases, 210 were incidents of attempted rape, while there were 58 murder cases and 58 cases of attempted murder recorded.
Sadly, in the midst of this unfolding national disaster, the gender ministry has been largely silent and irrelevant, when Sioka should have been leading the charge in creating a united front against the GBV scourge.
Even First Lady Monica Geingos has indicated that she is dissatisfied with the approach that the country is taking in terms of GBV.
One would think that because the issue is so critical, the ministry would channel most of its resources toward programs geared at combating and addressing GBV, with the hope that alcohol and drug abuse, as well as the deep-rooted stereotypes and cultural norms, which lead to women and girls being abused, can be tackled.
Instead, the ministry seems okay with the current status quo.
Earlier in the year, Deputy Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Lucia Swartbooi, reported that in previous years the ministry had not received any budget allocation to combat GBV, leading it to rely on donor support.
However, this support is dwindling, which in turn hampers consistency in terms of the implementation of programs dealing with gender equality activities in general, and GBV in particular.
This year, the ministry asked for about N$858 million for the 2016/17 financial year, citing that the bulk of the money will be used for programs aimed at catering for its continued support to orphanages and safe homes for gender-based violence victims.
This amount further includes a provision for social welfare grants to orphans and vulnerable children, providing subsidies to residential childcare facilities and managing shelters for abused women and children, as well as men.
Also on the list is the management of the operations of the Namibian Children’s Home and After School Centre, the implementation of policies, standards and guidelines, the provision of professional services and the monitoring and evaluation of child welfare programs.
At the beginning of the year, the ministry had planned to increase its advocacy and awareness at community level and its awareness campaigns on gender issues, including GBV, sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.
This included plans to carry out legal literacy awareness campaigns on existing related laws, for people to know and claim their rights.
Despite all these plans, the situation seems to be getting grimmer and grimmer.
Earlier this year, the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) also expressed its concerns about the rise in gender-based violence, citing that the scourge has reached epidemic proportions.
As a country we are failing on the GBV front and something needs to be done quickly, before the problem escalates even further.
In terms of orphans and vulnerable children, the ministry also seems to be found wanting.
There seems to be a noticeable number of street children around the country, especially in Windhoek.
In addition, the ministry is struggling with crucial personnel, such as social workers, with the few doing their best to deal with the massive workload, but seemingly failing.
About 106,930 girls and 97,232 boys received child grants last year.
When former Minister of Gender and Child Welfare, Rosalia Nghidinwa, was replaced, we really anticipated a big change within the ministry, because she was also largely invisible.
However, the only time we really see Sioka in the media is at carefully choreographed handover ceremonies, where she has been anything but vocal about the social issues that she is supposed to be dealing with.
The ministry is also in charge of income-generating programs, where it promotes self-employment, by financially assisting community projects countrywide, under its Community Empowerment Directorate.
This year, the ministry approved close to N$200,000 for 14 community projects in the Hardap region. Various community projects in all eight constituencies were approved for funding.
Although this in itself is laudable, N$200,000 for 14 projects in one region does not address the massive need across the country.
In 2017, we hope that Sioka and her team will finally arise from their slumber and become vocal and active in driving gender and other issues, especially those dealing with suffering of women and girls across Namibia.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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