Police Unit Seen as Biased against Men

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By William J. Mbangula OSHAKATI The name of a unit of the Namibian police force – the Women and Child Protection Unit – has provoked debate here about whether it is gender balanced in line with the Namibian constitution. Article 10 of the constitution on Equality and Freedom from Discrimination is said to be violated by the name of the police unit. It says: ” All persons shall be equal before the law. No persons may be discriminated against on the ground of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.” Sources close to the two-day workshop held here from August 7- 8 told New Era that one of the issues to be addressed by the envisaged Unit Management Committee (UMC) in each region is to find a suitable name for the unit to make it compatible with the reality of the situation on the ground. Concern has been raised about the name, which some people view as promoting discrimination on the basis of gender (sex). “I personally feel the name is not gender balanced, it is gender insensitive and discriminatory,” said one critic. Some people want to find out the wisdom of calling it “Women and Child Protection Unit” as if the women and children are the only ones who need protection. They argue that women and children do also commit domestic violence which make them not to have “exclusive and absolute privileges” of having a unit only “meant” for them by way of displaying an exclusive “Women and Child Protection Unit” name tag at the expense of men who are equally genuine victims of abuse. There are those in the country who see this as a violation of the supreme law of the land, the constitution by having a unit only “meant” for women and children in terms of its name and composition of its commanding structure. Although the unit is said to assist both men, women and children, the perception created by the name itself is apparently sending wrong signals and showing that it is not for men. ” The signboards at the unit’s offices and the perception created during the past years are just enough to chase you away as a man even though you may have genuine problems to report to this unit,” said another critic. It has also emerged that the formation and commanding structure, rank and file of this unit are women dominated to such an extent that men are not really free to enter such offices. Asked for his views, the Regional Co-coordinator of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) Festus Shaduva said the constitution prohibits discriminatory practices and laws. Any law of the land must be of general application and there must not be one part protected while another is neglected. “I don’t know the act which created the unit and the legal implications involved but all what I can say is that the law itself must be of general application and all-inclusive.” Shaduva noted that if there are units in the police or laws which appear to represent only certain gender groups or which create such wrong impressions, such laws or units should be rectified to be compatible with the Namibian constitution. ” I think Article 22 of the Namibian constitution is clear on this matter that the law should be of general application, shall not negate the essential content, and shall not be aimed at a particular individual. If there are police units which by implication are presumed to protect certain gender groups, I think this is undesirable,” said the human rights official. He also expressed his concern about the commanding structure of the unit, which he believes is only women dominated at the expense of men. As far as he knows, there are no high-ranking men in that unit in the north and called for the restructuring of the unit to be gender balanced and all inclusive to be able to address domestic violence more effectively. So far, Shaduva noted, the unit is presumed as a “women and child” entity. He added that even its handling of cases involving men are something questionable. “If a man goes to their offices complaining about maltreatment by his wife, he is mocked around as a coward or asked whether he sleeps in the house. But this is not the case with women. As soon as women have reported a matter to the unit, arrests will follow without any question. Such unfair treatment is meted out by women who are always sympathetic towards their female colleagues because they feel the unit is there to advance only the interests of fellow women.” New Era approached the Minister of Presidential Affairs Dr Albert Kawana for comment on two issues, namely, the reason why the former Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare has changed to ‘Gender Equality and Child Welfare’ and why the ‘Women and Child Protection Unit’ exists in the police force. On the ministry’s change of name, he explained President Hifikepunye Pohamba felt that there was a need to have a ministry which would do away with discriminatory connotations on the basis of gender. This was done, he said, in line with the letter and spirit of the constitution. “When it comes to gender issues, they cannot only be restricted to women alone. Both sexes must be involved because this matter has to do with the mindset, which needs to be changed. Men must change their attitude and behavior towards women and women need to know their rights. Both parties must play their roles.” On the name of the police unit, Kawana noted that it is a tricky one. “I hope if you approach the Ministry of Safety and Security and the Inspector General of the Police, they are likely to look at it.” However, Kawana confirmed that since the enactment of the law against domestic violence, incidents of domestic abuse against men have increased. At the same time women and children have also become slowly and surely abusers. Many people agree without any doubt that men are the most violators of human rights through domestic violence and otherwise. They (men) are rapists, murderers and perpetrate all sorts of violence in the society but equally women and children’s hands are not clean at all, it is said. Some notable and shocking incidents of violence committed by women and children in the past, although in the minority, are showing a trend which if not contained may result in an uncontrollable problem. In November 2004 a same-sex relationship in Oshakati between a senior professional nurse and a former police officer (of a middle rank) went sour after the presumed husband, the ex-police officer, suspected that her “wife” (the nurse) was going out with another partner. Out of uncontrolled rage driven by jealousy, she stabbed her “wife” to death with a kitchen knife. The incident was very brutal which shocked many people in and around Oshakati and raised concerns about the seriousness and danger of homosexual relationships. The former police officer is currently out on bail. She was arrested in Angola some few days after the incident while she was apparently consulting a witchdoctor. In July 2003, a woman from Omusimboti in Oshakati East constituency was arrested for allegedly conspiring with her son in beating to death her younger son. The body of the victim was secretly buried in a shallow grave near the homestead and was only discovered six months later. Another typical incident of abuse by a woman and her children of the husband was from Okaukamasheshe in Uuvudhiya constituency which was fully reported in this newspaper sometime ago. The victim Iithete Nakambale was being denied food, his own children were confiscating his pension money and his eldest son and powerful wife relocated the homestead without his consent. The matter was only rectified through the intervention of the Uukwambi Traditional Authority, which acted against the suspected troublemakers in the family. And very recently the 29-year-old Saima Amon from Ohehonge village near Epinga in Ohangwena region killed her three children, Emilia Abisai, 9, Paulus Shonghela, 4, and Frans Shonghela, five months old, by beating them with a stick before drowning them. Statistics, for example, from the office of the Regional Crime Co-coordinator in Ohangwena, shows that both groups are equally guilty of domestic violence. From January to June 2006, six cases of abuse were reported by women against men, two by men against women and one of child abuse against parents. In Omusati region the police spokesperson Sergeant Linekela Shikongo told New Era that mostly Angolan cattle herdersdomestic servants relate most of the domestic violence incidents to concealment of birth, and assault and rape including sodomy of young boys. From January to June five cases of sodomy were reported. Approached for comment, the National Coordinator of the Women and Child Protection Unit, Chief Inspector Rosalia Shatilwe, agreed with the critics that the name of the unit is not gender balanced but she was quick to add that things cannot change overnight. “The issue of the unit’s name with relation to gender balance is one of the concerns we have picked up from time to time from members of the public. We are fully aware of it and I want to appeal to the people not to be discouraged by the name. Maybe in some years to come the name may change to suit all the people but I cannot give a time frame at the moment.” She said such change of names had also occurred with regard to the former Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare. The same can also happen to the unit, she added. On the formation of the commanding structure of her unit, Shatilwe noted that it is not true that all the unit’s commanders are women. She cited Otjozondjupa and Kavango regions where unit leaders are men. On the command structure in Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Omusati and Oshana, which are women dominated, she said it is just unfortunate that it happened that way. “We are learning from experience. As a unit there are more things which we need to rectify and change to something, which will accommodate everybody. I wish to point out that that all laws governing us are gender based.” On domestic violence, Shatilwe pointed out that men against women commit most of the offences while women are mostly involved in the abuse of children. “We have also discovered that some children are misinterpreting and misusing their rights by being arrogant and undisciplined. I wish to caution them that their rights are not the passports for being undisciplined. Every parent or guardian has the right to call hisher child to order in a limited and responsible manner.” – .

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