Windhoek-Swapo MP Petrina Haingura has lamented the fact that gender-based violence continues to increase despite progressive legislation that exists to deter such violation of women’s rights.
Haingura, and other parliamentarians Agnes Limbo and Sophia Swartz join over 100 other delegates in what is poised to be a historic convergence of women lawmakers at the first ever African Women’s Parliament, taking place in Seychelles from today and tomorrow.
Women and girls continue to bear the brunt of all forms of abuses in the world – one in three women globally experiences physical or sexual abuse – and Namibia is not an exception. Namibia has continued to grapple with sexual reproductive health rights challenges, with mostly women and girls at the receiving end.
“We have talked a lot about gender-based violence. We have demonstrated against it, but no change has been forthcoming. We have so many good laws dealing with these criminal acts but implementation has always been a problem. We need to find new ways of dealing with this scourge,” bemoaned Haingura.
Limbo shared similar sentiments, saying that the empowerment of women and girls would help curtail the underlying causes of gender-based violence. She believes issues of gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancies, HIV and early marriages, among others, are intertwined.
“We have been talking about gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, HIV and early marriages. These issues emanate from lack of empowerment. Most women don’t have the means to survive and depend on their male partners, which makes them vulnerable,” noted Limbo.
Another Namibian lawmaker, Elma Dienda, who also supports advocacy against gender-based violence, called for an examination of laws governing abortion, saying that the current state of affairs does not favour women.
“People should be made aware that there are instances when abortion is allowed in Namibia and avenues to give the baby up for adoption or a place of safety. The lack of awareness makes most of our girls to either have unsafe abortions or dump their babies, which is very worrisome. Some of these girls are afraid to approach health facilities for fear of prosecution,” stated Dienda.
Namibia’s HIV prevalence rate has slightly increased from 16.9 percent in 2014 to 17.2 percent in 2016, according to the latest National HIV Sentinel Survey released in 2016. A large chunk of these statistics comprises women and girls.
Social ills such as unsafe abortions, baby dumping, teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence that are widespread in Namibia add to a myriad of challenges hampering the realization of women’s health rights.
This is a worrisome trend that has prompted women parliamentarians in Namibia to join their counterparts in Mahé, Seychelles to find a solution during a gathering on the SADC-sponsored Resolution 60/2, which focuses on women, the girl child and HIV and AIDS.
Expectations are that the Women’s Parliament would further strengthen already existing obligations by SADC countries that have ratified various international and regional legal instruments meant to protect the rights of women and girls.
The Women’s Parliament will provide a platform for lawmakers to share experiences in strengthening national legal and policy frameworks to promote sexual reproductive health rights and HIV and AIDS governance. Expectations are that it will, also, develop strategies on how women parliamentarians can play an effective role in promoting women’s participation in decision-making relating to the well-being of women and girls.
Women parliamentarians have a critical role to play in changing the status quo, as they can influence the enactment or harmonization of legislation that can better protect women and girls who bear the brunt of the global HIV epidemic.
* George Sanzila works as chief information officer in the Division Research, Information, Publications and Editorial Services at the National Assembly.