Sunday, 25 November was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Monday, 10 December will be International Human Rights Day and Namibian Women’s Day.
The 16 days in-between are the 16 Days of Activism, days meant to challenge us all to do better in fighting gender discrimination and gender-based violence.
Monday, 19 November was International Men’s Day, celebrated under the theme ‘men leading by example’ when us okes were supposed to reflect on what it means to be a man, and cast off some of the harmful stereotypes around masculinity that have led some of us to be rapists, abusers and killers.
I generally feel disillusioned when I’m invited to a commemoration of one of these many days. I have been to literally dozens of them.
I remember going to my first International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 2000, in my final year at varsity.
I’ve helped fund and organize them, yet nothing much seems to change.
Each year, we read out new names of women and girls who’ve been abused and butchered in all kinds of ways, more often than not by men who claimed to love them, who were in relationships with them.
After more than a decade, you start to realise that people have forgotten the names that were mentioned when you started attending these gatherings, that these women seem to be destined to fade into the fog of history.
Each year also, you start to realise your own complicity. When an acquaintance in the midst of a messy divorce had a domestic violence case made against him, I didn’t do enough to confront him.
Like most guys, I’ve looked the other way or changed the subject when bar-room or locker-room conversations about sexual ‘conquests’ have made me more than a little uneasy.
I’ve never been an abuser myself, but if I look back over my past relationships, I realise there have been times when I’ve spoken with the exact same entitled prick mentality that I hear in some of these murderers’ confessions: ‘how can you leave me?’ ‘What about all the things I’ve done for you?’ ‘What about my feelings?’ ‘What about my reputation?’
I’ve also begun to doubt just how serious our government, and our country as a whole, is about ending all of this.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m a very patriotic Namibian. But when I look at how underfunded, under-resourced, and under-provided with trained personnel, are some of the institutions that deal with GBV – maintenance courts, police women and child protection units, women shelters – I don’t know what to think anymore.
What would I do? That’s the million-dollar question. As I said, I’m as complicit as anyone in all of this, and there are no easy ways out.
Activists and researchers have proposed some policy changes that could happen pretty quickly, though. Reform the divorce law to make it easier for people to leave abusive marriages.
Invest more in the enforcement of protection orders and the training of those who enforce them. Establish a sexual offenders register.
In my own life, the effect of attending conflict resolution training, which teaches people to manage their emotions and to solve many kinds of disputes without resorting to force, has been dramatic, and I would want such lessons in all schools and in every prison or correctional institution before the next decade is out.
For individuals (not least those of us in my own professional ‘tribe’, the media), I’d challenge us to make 2019 a full 365 days of activism.
Each day next year, I’m going to challenge myself to take at least one anti-gender-based-violence action. To find one guy to talk to about how we can be better men.
Or write to a decision maker urging him or her to do better. Or support a business owned by women, especially women of colour. Or to push back on social media against some of the widespread ‘serve your man’ narratives, bearing in mind my own need for mental wellbeing.
Let’s have some real, significant progress to report when we meet for the 16 Days of Activism in 2019, or, at least, in 2029.
Hugh Ellis is a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). His book of poems, Hakahana, published by Unam Press, is out now. Contact him on Twitter: @ellis_hugh. The views expressed here are personal.