Activists Challenge Swapo on Women Representation

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By Petronella Sibeene

WINDHOEK

Gender activists have expressed disappointment at the Swapo Party’s failure to make their newly elected leadership at least 50 percent women.
Out of the 21 members of the Politburo elected at the just-ended Swapo Party 4th Congress, only three are women. At Central Committee level, only 14 members out of 83 are women.

Gender activist, Sarry Xoagus, during an Editor’s Forum on Gender and Media in Southern Africa-Namibia Chapter (GEMSANAM) meeting yesterday, said the election is a reflection of what will take place during the 2009 elections.
“All the women are out and that shows that this will be the pattern it will follow during the 2009 election,” she said.

However, records show that Namibia has 26.9 percent women’s participation in politics.
In 2005, Namibia had 42 percent women representation at local government level, with 27 percent women representation at National Assembly and 11 percent at Regional Council level.

Considering that 40 percent of the delegates to the Congress were women, Xoagus added that the Swapo Party should have included more women in its structures.

The Swapo Party during its 2002 congress resolved that there be equal representation of women in all decision-making processes.
Founding Father, Dr Sam Nujoma, during the fourth congress remarked that mobilisation of all Namibians (including women) in the socio-economic development is crucial for the realisation of the country’s long-term development goals and programmes.

Xoagus said the low representation of women should also be blamed on women themselves as they fail to support each other.
“Women leadership is lacking in Namibia. We have individuals and not a cohesive women’s movement,” she added.

The general perception is that the few women who are in positions of power do not necessarily speak for other women.
Swapo Secretary General, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, told New Era that women at both Politburo and Central Committee levels were elected by way of voting.

She explained that issues of gender equality cannot be addressed through democracy where people are left to choose. Instead, the Government should identify ways in which it can address the inequalities in society.

She said that gender balance cannot be attained by way of elections because in Namibia, most people continue to uphold cultural beliefs that men should always lead because women are not competent enough.

Vice-chairperson of GEMSANAM, Ngamane Karuaihe-Upi, said those holding high and influential positions talk of gender equality when addressing the public and yet fail to practise it in their homes.

“We preach but we do not practise,” he said.
Namibia is believed to be a conservative country where the majority still shy away from coming out publicly and reveal their ordeals especially those related to gender inequalities.

At the meeting, it was felt that women organisations were more powerful and influential at independence but have since been silenced.
As a result, Namibia has become an apathetic country where citizens are more concerned about their individual lives and survival.

Another issue that dominated the meeting was media coverage of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign beginning on November 25, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends only on International Human Rights Day on December 10.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence highlights the connection between violence against women and human rights. December 10 is also the Day of the Namibian Woman.

Karuaihe-Upi urged the media to move away from the perception that gender related articles do not sell.
Rather, the media should be investigative enough and bring out the untold story, he added.

Namibia is ranked 29th in gender balance in the world, the Global Gender Gap Index 2007 by the World Economic Forum shows. In the Southern African region, Namibia ranks second in gender balance after South Africa, which is first while Lesotho is third.

GEMSANAM says Namibia’s position shows a stark contrast in the perception given the fear that women walk with in society and the number of rape cases reported and other criminal activities perpetrated against them.

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