By Petronella Sibeene
Economic empowerment of women was the focal point of this year” International Women’s Day commemoration in Windhoek last Saturday.
This year’s commemoration with the theme “Financing for Gender Equality:
Economic Empowerment of Women is the Key to Eradicate Gender Based Violence, HIV/AIDS and Poverty,” aimed at empowering women on financial matters and to expose them to various funding and business opportunities.
The event was attended by Namibia’s businesswomen, entrepreneurs, female parliamentarians, representatives of various embassies and women heading some empowerment agencies.
Minister of Finance Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the purpose of bringing a gender perspective to the budget is to ensure that economic policies address the needs of women and men of different backgrounds equitably.
She added that women’s financial empowerment is key to addressing some of the persistent social problems Namibia faces today.
She said many of the problems facing women today, such as gender-based violence, unemployment and poverty are a result of gender inequalities.
The minister said gender financing is one of the cornerstones of empowerment of women. Because of that, she added that it is important to reserve resources for activities that promote gender equality.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila urged different stakeholders to ensure gender equality and women empowerment through policies, conventions and programmes.
United Nations Resident Coordinator Simon Nhongo defined financing for gender as mainstreaming gender into financial planning and critically examining the separate roles men and women have to play in society.
He said once Namibia prioritises gender equality in its national budget, it would be empowering a sector of society that has proven its strength and resilience.
“By allocating adequate resources, we can begin to destroy some of these obstacles such as gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and poverty … if Namibia is to move forward, it is going to be on the backs of equal and empowered citizens,” he said.
Women are key agents for effective grassroots implementation of poverty reduction programmes and economic regeneration.
In Namibia, the majority of the population resides in rural areas and women constitute 52 percent of the rural population. They contribute enormously to agricultural production.
They head 39 percent of all households with 43 percent in rural areas and 32 percent in urban areas.
She disclosed that 17 years after independence, the formal sector is still dominated by men and most better paying jobs with the latest technologies are occupied by men.
Women on the other hand dominate the informal sector and yet their work is not recognised and calculated in the Gross Domestic Product.
She said government has put in place policies that outlaw all discriminatory practices.
However, Director of Women’s Solidarity Namibia Rosa Namises says the laws passed to protect women are just on paper and thus have little effect in changing the status quo.
Women in the country are still trapped in the same oppressive and discriminatory state for years.
“Namibia’s women’s movement is more than 20 years old and we have begged, pleaded and screamed for the same things all these years but not many of our calls have been heeded,” she said.
While there are some women who have managed to secure high positions especially at the political level, they are also trapped in a system where patriarchy and the male paradigm of power manifests itself in the way they think and act.
According to Namises, the women in leadership positions do not represent the concerns of marginalised women in the country.
She feels that “those entrusted to combat violence against women and children are under-resourced and overworked”.
Further, the national budget continues to ignore the increasing feminisation of poverty and the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and communities at large.
She called on Government to support 365 Days of Activism Campaign and not only the 16-Day Campaign of Activism on Gender-Based Violence.
“What impact does two weeks of awareness make? Government is a critical partner in ensuring that the women and children of this country experience the peaceful and stable country that we are prided for,”
While Government says it has made efforts aimed at modernising discriminatory laws and galvanising women’s participation, gender equality experts have argued that these can be frustrated by the deep-rooted cultural barriers that so often run in parallel with poverty.
It is such cultural traditions that create the most stubborn obstacle to the essential steps towards women’s equality.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila acknowledged that gender-based violence, women in poverty and women’s lack of access to social and economic resources are a result of gender inequalities and patriarchy.
She urged all Namibian women to support each other for them to succeed in life.
The main event for this year’s International Women’s Day was held at Zoo Park with a gala dinner in honour of women of substance.