Over several years, the entire country has been rocked repeatedly by ever-escalating gender based violence (GBV) horror stories reported in the media, witnessed personally or ‘known’ in our communities and families.
Each time we read about or see a tragedy involving yet another woman abused, terrorised or killed by her partner, family member, husband or other trusted figure in her life, we think it can’t get any worse. Until, it does.
Like others, the Windhoek Observer (WO) stood in shock at the death of Alina Kakehongo (24), shot in the head at her workplace in Windhoek by her ex-boyfriend, a police officer about whom the victim had complained to the authorities repeatedly.
Over the years, a sick parade of GBV attacks, intimidation and murder/suicide debacles have also occurred.
A stunned Namibian public is in need of guidance on what to think, what’s going on, what’s being done, why is this happening, and what to do about this spate of torment that is threatening the very fabric of our society.
In the midst of this perfect storm of escalating GBV and tough economic recession, the measured, informed and determined voice of the First Lady of Namibia, Madam Monica Geingos (FLMG), peels out loudly above the confusion and noise and offers some guidance.
WO: Can you please list some of the causes of GBV so that the public can quickly familiarise themselves on these points.
FLMG: Root causes of GBV according to survivors and service providers:
• Patriarchy/Toxic masculinity/Male entitlement
• Negative communication skills
• Childhood and untreated trauma
• Excessive jealousy
• Men treating women as property
• Cultural norms and traditional beliefs
• Alcohol and drug abuse
• Male control of wealth and decision making in the family
• Violence is learned through observation and personal experience
WO: Can GBV be attributed to culture: “a man has the right to ‘discipline’ a woman, etc?”
FLMG: Victim blaming is a challenge as most perpetrators tend to rely on seeking fault in the victim as a way of averting responsibility. Even in the rare instances where violence is aggravated by the victim’s behaviour, the use of violence by a perpetrator is always a choice. The same goes for cultural beliefs. A perpetrator is solely responsible for his behaviour as there is no excuse for violence.
The use of violence as a form of discipline is in fact a reflection of a lack of discipline and confirms patriarchy as a cause of GBV. There are effective ways to communicate anger, disappointment or frustration and violence is not one of them.
We also believe there is a need to re-evaluate our understanding and interpretation of culture. Most traditions vest themselves in the protection of women and children.
This discrepancy in what our cultures actually are and the ways in which they have been distorted and used as a tool to harm the vulnerable requires us to introspect as a nation and re-examine traditional practices and religious beliefs which harm the vulnerable and protect the abusive.
WO: One of the biggest challenges women face is a triple threat of GBV- they can’t talk to their relatives about it, they can’t talk to friends and they surely can’t talk to the police. Is this assumption true?
FLMG: GBV is often a product of intimate partner violence. People still treat intimate partner violence as a private matter and sometimes only report it when their lives are in imminent danger. Often, the perpetrator is or was in a relationship with the victim or occupies a position of trust (teacher, uncle, neighbour, father, pastor, boss, co-worker) and reporting the abuser can have negative social or economic consequences.
This is why we often treat each case on its merits and there have been times where we have realised that while some of those we assist may require access to psychological support, they do not necessarily want to report the case to the police.
We always encourage survivors to report, and provide full support when they do; but we have a full understanding how complex many cases of GBV are once you drill into the details.
We must also address the reason why many are reluctant to report abuse. We have seen many cases where the survivor of violence is subjected to social ridicule while subjected to slow and traumatising services once they report.
This leads us to our original point that violence is intersectional and requires a holistic response. The urgency with which we need to strengthen our systems is accompanied by an urgency to address our societal values, mindsets and practices as well as our underlying economic and social conditions, which are all associated with violence.
An increasingly popular strategy for addressing violence is through the establishment of “one-stop centers” (OSCs), which provide integrated, multi-disciplinary services in a single physical location, including healthcare, psychosocial support, and police and legal sector responses.
Comparative case studies in South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia show that the OSC model appears to be the most effective in providing medical and legal support to survivors.
Despite the advances made in data and evidence, the drivers of violence, its societal and economic determinants, have yet to be understood to their fullest extent. Unveiling them will contribute positively to prevention and service delivery efforts.
WO: Police have been blamed for not acting decisively when it comes to dealing with GBV. In your work do you find this to be true?
FLMG: We have provided trauma counselling to some police officers and done sensitivity training to others. We mostly deal with police officers attached to the GBV Investigation Unit and City Police, and our experience is that the police need more support in order to be effective.
Many are not accessing mental health services despite processing traumatising crime scenes and cases on a daily basis. They deal with high caseloads in stressful work environments that might lead to emotional burnout etc.
We have worked with police officers who have been insensitive, corrupt, and tardy and we have worked with police officers who are caring, professional and do the best they can within difficult environments.
My team often talk about police officers who buy food and pay taxi fares for vulnerable victims. The police needs our full support and that is why we give it to them. We have a number of concerns of issues we have experienced, but we prefer to engage the specific stakeholders directly and not through the media.
WO: We have various agencies to assist with combating GBV. For example, the police and the ministry of gender, but are there synergies?
FLMG: The need for a multi-disciplinary approach was identified as a key recommendation from the 2nd National Conferences on GBV as well the Gender Justice Colloquium where it was decided that a multi-disciplinary committee comprising of all relevant stakeholders be established.
We believe that the effective implementation of those recommendations would serve as game changers. Fortunately, there is some form of multi-disciplinary approach at some places.
An example is how both the Namibian Police and MGECW have staff (social workers, police) attached to the Gender Based Violence Investigation Units. However, these specialised police units are only in regional towns and their operating hours are from 8h00 to17h00 with police members on standby after hours and weekends. Due to the shortage of social workers and psychologists, the same synergies are not at police station level.
We therefore look forward to the day when police officers at station level receive the same specialised training on GBV and child protection. Families need a holistic approach and prevention and treatment programmes with men and perpetrators should be an integral part of the services.
WO: There have been numerous campaigns about GBV. Have they been successful?
FLMG: Media campaigns are expensive and we are delighted when we see campaigns like the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare’s “Spot it to Stop it” campaign which focused on prevention and response. There is greater awareness on GBV and more people report cases and seek services.
Our research, however, found that Namibia lacks an integrated, holistic protection system to better assist survivors and perpetrators of GBV and their families, so it appears that while we can encourage people to report and seek services, we must be ready to provide appropriate responses.
As a consequence of the extensive work which we have done within the area of gender based violence, including research conducted among perpetrators of violence within correctional facilities, there has been a realisation that the high levels of gender based violence which we see within our society cannot be divorced from the generally high levels of violence that has emerged.
The BreakFree Anti-Violence Campaign was launched in November 2017 as a consequence of these insights gained. To date, this campaign has exceeded our expectations in terms of national impact; it has a strong presence in various media outlets (i.e. print, radio, social media and television).
We have managed to keep the BreakFree campaign visible and relevant through various initiatives on the ground including, pledge signings at malls, high density events such as music concerts and also through targeted signing ceremonies at schools, tertiary institutions and corporates. We have also benefited from the support of influential Namibian leaders from all spheres of society including corporates, church leaders, traditional leaders, community leaders etc.
We have set an ambitious target of obtaining 100,000 pledge signatures for the anti-violence pledge, which offers practical guidelines on how we can all make a difference within our spheres of influence when it comes to violence in all its manifestations. It is worth noting that the pledge has been made more accessible online.
There have also been community outreaches in various areas including Havana and Hakahana in the Khomas Region as well as Oikokola in the Omusati Region and Okambebe in the Ohangwena Region to name, but a few. Many of the outreaches have been spearheaded by individuals who are passionate about making a difference in their communities.
In addition, anti-violence awareness workshops have been held, including one in July where 100 percent of B2Gold Namibia staff were in attendance. Another campaign outcome is the gathering of a thousand stories related to violence as we believe that stories are a powerful tool for transformation and have the ability to encourage help-seeking behavior.
Story exchange interventions have therefore been held at schools, to encourage young people to have a greater sense of agency, mental well-being as well as understand that there are ways to cope with difficult circumstances.
We have increasingly observed that following every campaign activity, we see a spike in people reaching out to us, seeking counselling and other services as a consequence of violence related social issues being experienced. There have also been requests for follow-up workshops, community outreaches and pledge signings. We believe that this is proof of the impact of the campaign.
As a consequence of high levels of interest and participation, the decision has been made to extend the campaign. We encourage all those who are interested in joining this campaign to contact our office or reach out through our various social media platforms.
One Economy Foundation - 061 270 7806, @oneEconomyFoundation, Tel: 264 (61) 270 7111, Fax: 264 (61) 271 770