The Women’s Action for Development (WAD) recently celebrated 23 years of its existence as an organisation dedicated to the upliftment and development of women in the country, as well as to the promotion of gender equality. The executive director of WAD, Salatiel Shinedima (SS) recently spoke to New Era (NE) journalist, Alvine Kapitako, on what has become of the organisation and the impact of its work on society.
NE: What in your view are WAD’s achievements since its inception?
SS: “WAD’s achievements are too many to mention. As a women’s organization, WAD has been advocating for the recognition of women’s rights and the organisation has been actively engaged in creating awareness about human rights, aspects of the Namibian constitution as well as unpacking the contents of gender-related laws. We also played a role in advancing gender equality in the country and providing basic vocational training to unemployed youth and women.”
NE: What informs WAD of which training to offer?
SS: “Our training programmes are based on the needs identified in the vocational training sector and our aim is to prepare unemployed youth and women for opportunities in that sector.”
NE: What in your view is the need in the market in terms of training and how is WAD meeting those needs?
SS: “In my view, the programmes that are conducted by many vocational training institutions are relevant to market needs. As an organization with limited funds, we are making our contribution and we are satisfied that some of our trainees either have jobs or started their own income-generating ventures. So we are meeting the needs in that aspect. However, I think we need to create more opportunities for vocational training graduates, so that the contribution we make has an impact on their lives. For example, the vocational training sector trains a lot of unemployed youth and women in cloth making, and they have to compete for a limited number of opportunities in the clothing market. Many of the companies in the clothing industry procure the majority, if not all, of their clothes from outside the country, while we have many unemployed trained Namibians who can be employed to manufacture clothes for these companies. Instead of creating such employment opportunities at home we are actually creating them outside the country. I think it will be ideal for the country to oblige those companies to procure a certain percentage of their clothing stock from Namibia, so that we create more jobs at home.”
NE: How many people has WAD trained so far?
SS: “It is estimated that from 1994 to now, WAD has reached more than 50,000 people, either through awareness workshops or vocational training programmes. However, due to lack of capacity and funding we did not have a dedicated database system to capture and categorize statistical information in a classified manner.”
NE: Talking about training – is the education system doing enough to prepare students to be relevant in today’s world? If not, what needs to be done?
SS: “Generally speaking yes. Understanding that education is the key to a brighter future, it is important for our education system to prepare learners for life after high school, not only in terms of pursuing studies at tertiary institutions but also to be able to join the labour market after school, especially those who failed to obtain satisfactory grades at school. WAD feels that, given the high level of youth unemployment in the country, it is of utmost importance for our education system to prepare learners with technical skills that will enable them to either pursue careers in vocational training or find employment in the labour market. Hence, WAD urges the government to reintroduce vocational (technical) subjects at school for us to have an inclusive education system. We need to train learners according to their abilities for them to be able to contribute to the development of our country and become relevant in society.”
NE: Men and children are also victims of gender-based violence. How is WAD working to address this problem?
SS: “WAD has introduced a gender-based violence awareness programme which particularly focuses on raising awareness with men. Men are generally regarded as perpetrators of physical violence. But one needs to realise that men can also become victims of abuse, especially when it comes to financial, emotional or psychological abuse as well physical abuse, even though this is at a lesser degree. Physical violence by one partner usually comes as a result of another form of abuse by another partner. Therefore, with these interventions we engage men on how they can effectively contribute to the reduction of gender-based violence in the country. During 2011 and 2012, WAD conducted a programme targeted at raising awareness with school learners and life skills teachers on gender-based violence issues. During that intervention WAD aimed at reaching out to high school learners with information on gender-based violence related matters.”
NE: Is WAD still relevant to the fight against gender-based violence?
SS: “WAD will remain relevant to the fight against gender-based violence for as long as gender-based violence remains an issue of concern in Namibia. WAD considers gender-based violence to be a threat to peace in our country, and for as long as there are women who fear to be raped when crossing riverbeds at night, then we cannot say that we are fully enjoying peace in the country. The fight against gender-based violence is one of WAD’s core activities.”
NE: Considering that men too are victims of violence shouldn’t WAD change its name to a gender-neutral one?
SS: “I don’t think that there is a need to change the name now because our activities still focus on advancing the interests of women in an unequal patriarch-centered society. We first need to shift our patriarch societal principals towards a gender-balanced society.”
NE: There are perceptions that since former executive director Veronica de Klerk stepped down, WAD has been silent and not visible. What is your reaction to this?
SS: “Perceptions are always there, and sometimes, if not often, perceptions are not based on facts. WAD is still alive and very visible on the ground, in terms of our programmes and activities. However, one should admit that the financial situation that we are currently experiencing in the country has affected the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector as well. And it has affected some of our visibility programmes, especially in the media. In fact, we had to reduce the number of our media visibility programmes, and focus much of our resources to training activities and workshop programmes. I believe that beneficiaries of our training and awareness raising programmes will bear testimony to the visibility of our programmes. However, I believe that when we recover from the current financial situation, we will be visible in the media again. Madam de Klerk has done a great job in building the foundation of this organisation, and we shall always be thankful for her hard work and selfless service she has rendered to the Namibian nation.”
NE: Do you feel you are the right man for the job?
SS: “Yes I do, and I think every Namibian man should feel right for a job that seeks to advance human rights, gender equality and social justice. Every Namibian man should take keen interest in understanding the dynamics of the society that we live in. Women’s issues are men’s issues, and any issue threatening the freedom and safety of women should concern men as well. I feel I am the right man because I strongly believe in the work I do and I do not have any doubts in my belief.”
NE: Does being a man leading what is believed to be a woman’s organisation make your job difficult in anyway?
SS: “It actually makes my job interesting because I believe that I am playing a role in changing the paradigm of how certain things are perceived. Wherever I go, I have noticed that I leave people enlightened that men should take a leading role in addressing some of the issues that are traditionally associated with women. This is why in some cases issues are stigmatized by society and therefore are not given the attention they deserve because of stigma.”
NE: How has the withdrawal of donors from the country affected WAD’s programmes?
SS: “The withdrawal of donors from the country has affected the civil society sector worse than it has affected other sectors. Some NGOs had to shut down and some had to scale down their activities. WAD and a few more NGOs are lucky to still make it. Perhaps I should take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our long-term partner the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung for their continued financial and technical support since 1994. I further wish to thank the Old Mutual Group of Companies, Bidvest Namibia, the Namdeb Foundation, the Skorpion Zinc Mine and many other local companies that have supported WAD over the years. At the same time, I would like to encourage the private sector to intensify their financial support to civil society. We cannot afford to have a weak civil society in Namibia because civil society organizations play a major role in complementing government in its efforts to reduce unemployment and poverty in the country.”