Denial of conjugal rights can cause GBV

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Windhoek – Even though violence against Namibian women continues uninterruptedly, some women feel it is acceptable for their husbands to beat them for refusing them conjugal rights and if they fail in household chores.

The term ‘conjugal rights’ usually refers to the privileges that a husband and wife are entitled to in a domestic union, such as having sexual intercourse.

According to the 2013 Namibia Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 28 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 felt that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife for burning the food (10%), arguing with the husband (12%), going out without telling the husband (13%), neglecting the children (20%) and refusing sex (8%).

Meanwhile, the percentage of women aged 15 – 49 who believe that a wife is justified in refusing to have sexual intercourse with her husband if she knows he had sex with other women, and who believe that a woman has a right to ask her husband to use a condom if she knows he is sexually active with others, is lowest among those in the youngest age group (15-19).

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) public outreach manager for the Gender Research and Advocacy Project, Rachel Coomer, says an important aspect of the data one should consider is the comparative results from men.

These, she stressed, shows that fewer men agree with the statements than women. Whilst the sample sizes differ (9 176 women versus 4021 men), Coomer says it appears to suggest that women have a lower confidence in their own empowerment than men. “At the LAC we believe there is insufficient recognition of the linkages between the use of violence as a form of discipline (corporal punishment) and violence in later life – whether it is the child growing up to be an abuser in a relationship or as someone who accepts violence from a partner. Until this problem is addressed, the long-term problem of domestic violence is unlikely to be significantly reduced,” she said.

Meanwhile, prominent gender activist Ngamane Karuaihe-Upi attributed such perceptions to traditional, religious and cultural conditioning as being deeply entrenched in many Namibians.

According to Karuaihe-Upi, it’s an ancient notion that men are superior to women, which denotes the power of a man over a woman.

This, he says, translates into men being able to “discipline” and have authority over women. He added that men are conditioned to exercise this, while women are conditioned to submit to this. Thus the “justifiable reasons,” he says, are nothing but society condoning the abuse of women.

“Who disciplines men when they drink up all household money or gamble it away, when they go out for a whole weekend without telling the wife, when they do not care for nor support the children? Who disciplines them when they go next door for sex, when they have children out of wedlock or when they crash the car? Who disciplines them when they sell the family cattle or incur debt that threatens the security and stability of the family?” he queried.

Therefore, he said, the re-education of all members of society is of paramount importance, to ensure the termination of archaic rules, laws and norms. He also suggested that gender equality be taught in every class, preached in every church, promoted on every billboard and practised by all, for the good of all.

The report also highlights that polygamy has implications for frequency of exposure to sexual activity and, therefore, fertility.

76 percent of married women reported that their husband or partner did not have another wife, a decrease from the figure reported in the 2006-07 NDHS of 81 percent. While, 6 percent of women reported that their husbands had more than one wife. Rural women are more likely to live in a polygamous union than urban women with 9 percent versus 4 percent.

Ten percent or more of women in Zambezi, Kunene, Kavango and Ohangwena are in a polygamous union, as compared with less than 1 percent of women in Hardap.

The proportion of women in a polygamous relationship declines with increasing education and, in general, with increasing household wealth, the report says.

The vast majority of men (98 percent) reported having only one wife. Two percent of married men reported having two or more wives, as compared with 6 percent of women who reported having co-wives.

Men in Kunene (8 percent), those with no education (4 percent), and men living in households in the second and fourth wealth quintiles (4 percent each) were most likely to report having more than one wife.

By Albertina Nakale

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