In this New Era exclusive, First Lady Monica Geingos, who celebrates her two year marriage anniversary to President Hage Geingob today, walks us through her nuptial journey so far. She also talks about gender-based violence (GBV) and how a day like this, Valentine’s, can be used productively by reflecting on this scourge.
New Era (NE): Exactly on this day two years ago, you got married to Dr Hage Geingob, our President. How has the journey been so far?
Monica Geingos (MG): It is such a complex journey of multiple roles and competing demands. Despite the late nights and early mornings, there is never enough time. We have both missed out on so much in the lives of our family and friends and we can only be grateful for their understanding and acceptance of the limitation that public life has on private lives.
NE: How romantic is the President?
MG: My husband looks rough and tough but he has the kindest heart. I say this in his defence because he is not romantic in a “roses are red, violets are blue” kind of way, he is more pragmatic than he is romantic. An example is how he has insisted we both protect our daily lunchtimes as far as possible to just check-in on the other’s day. This has become a tradition, which I value as it makes me feel like he cares and appreciates my presence despite all the demands on his time. He always makes the kids laugh because if they travel and they don’t tell him they have arrived safely, they can be sure to get an earful. If he travels either domestically or internationally and we are not together, he will always make contact to confirm he has landed and how his trip has been. Those around him know he has this habit, so if he has an immediate engagement, Commissioner Ndjaronguru will let me know they have arrived safely as he knows how my husband values communication.
NE: You two look happy together, what is the secret and what keeps you and the President happy?
MG: A relationship that lacks love will never result in happiness but love alone isn’t enough. We have somehow figured out what we must add and what we must subtract to ensure that the ups in our relationship exceed the downs. One of the many secret ingredients is we laugh a lot together.
NE: What did your husband do for you last year on Valentine’s?
MG: Last year Valentine’s fell on a Sunday so we went to Church and had lunch thereafter, which was less about being romantic and more about how we spend our Sundays. In the evening, we made extra effort to have a special dinner with our children.
NE: What did you do for him on that day?
MG: I made prayer commitments to the Lord, my husband and to myself on our wedding day and last year, I repeated those commitments and this year, I will do the same. There are so many people who pray for my husband and if I have a wish for today it is that we all pray for wisdom, unity and grace for him as an individual and for one another as a nation.
NE: What does Valentine’s mean to you?
MG: I wish I had a more refined answer but the truth is that Valentine’s Day has never meant anything to me. Now that our wedding anniversary falls on the 14th of February, I have a little more regard for the day. I respect the preferences of those who choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, as each of us must speak our own love language and do the things that make us feel loved, respected and appreciated.
NE: You’ve been involved in activities related to mitigating GBV. What, in your observation, has been the greatest contribution to such violence?
MG: GBV is a wide term and includes everything from baby dumping, rape, assault and murder. Women and children are statistically more likely to suffer GBV but it is impossible to separate this GBV from the generally high levels of violence in our society. Each act of GBV has a different driver and there isn’t only one “major factor” as there are several, many of which are inter-dependent. If I had to attribute, it appears to be boiling down to patriarchal views about women as well as high levels of generational trauma and social dysfunction. It appears we have internalised violence and lack communication and conflict resolution skills, which leads to misunderstandings and conflict which appear small escalating into something more serious.
NE: What should the country do to ensure such incidents are significantly reduced?
MG: There is a lot to be done but given that its Valentine’s Day, it is appropriate to speak about the importance of love in our relationships with our children, with ourselves and those under our protection. Lack of love, fatherlessness, mental health, poor parenting or unstable homes, low self-esteem, alcohol and drugs are some of the drivers of negative outcomes in relationships. I feel the “Spot it to Stop it” Campaign by the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare on what love means was a perfect example of how to engage this issue. I would really like to see Namibians embrace the work being done by government around encouraging Namibians to make positive lifestyle choices. The ministry of health has also rolled out a Valentine’s Day campaign called “Safe Love for Healthy Relationships” and I really do believe those types of campaigns are necessary to force us to re-examine some of our belief systems while also accessing the right information. We also need to do a lot of work on helping people to deal with psychological trauma and how to deal with negative emotions in a constructive manner.
There are many other things that can be done but I would like to retain the focus of love of God, self and others as the basic building block.
NE: Does your office have any programmes geared towards addressing GBV? Please elaborate.
MG: Gender Based Violence is one of the five pillars of my office. Ending poverty requires addressing the power inequalities between women and men, girls and boys that underpin gender-based violence. The Office of the First Lady has an advocacy role and will support government efforts in addressing all forms of gender-based violence.
Specific activities include:
• Research to advance the understanding of the complex root causes of GBV, what strategies work and how this information can be used to improve programming in partnership with NCS and UNAM.
• An anti-violence campaign to promote non-violent behaviour and effective responses to GBV
• Engagement of perpetrators of gender-based violence in prevention programmes
• Technical assistance to the Namibian Correctional Service, Friendly Haven Shelter
• Institutional support to Ministry of Safety and Security, specifically Namibian Correctional Service & Namibian Police Force, Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare.
• Advocacy for legislative and policy changes to support intervention programmes for perpetrators of gender-based violence as part of the integrated service response.
• Public dialogue and other outreach programmes focusing on both survivors and perpetrators
• Country wide #BeFree Conversations with adolescents and youth, their parents and community leaders with the main aim to encourage open and frank dialogue between adolescents and their parents on issues affecting the youth; to empower youth, parents, community leaders and families
• Stay in School Campaign, which will track the TIP class of 2017 until matric
• To use participatory methods to address underlying, often subconscious, beliefs and biases related to gender inequity to build capacity of communities to challenge negative social norms in partnership with LAC, Friendly Haven Shelters, and Right for Respect.
• To speak out against GBV and violence against children at all possible platforms
• To invest in building capacity of service providers and community based groups
• To engage custodians of culture, customs and social norms especially traditional and religious leaders through community dialogue
NE: What – again in your observation – are the long-term implications of GBV?
MG: It not only scars the perpetrator and the victim/survivor, it also impacts all the silent witnesses be it children, friends or family members on both sides. These psychological scars are often transferred through relationships and generations through learned behaviour and emotional trauma. GBV has economic consequences and can also result in physical, mental, sexual, reproductive health and other health problems, and may even increase vulnerability to HIV. Women and children bear the brunt of GBV so it is not far-fetched to assume that high levels of GBV have the ability to undermine the equal participation of women at economic and political levels.