Endgame for rape culture in Namibia

07 May 2019 | Local News

With more than 200 accounts of rape and other forms of sexual abuse reported on social media over the last few days the #MeToo movement in Namibia has taken hold and a new alliance of organisations is keen to tap into the momentum and help end the pervasive culture of rape and sexual violence in the country.

“The biggest problem here is that we are seeing how rape culture has infiltrated our society in a manner in which people have been silenced for so long, and have been fearful for so long, because the culture is so prevalent,” Arlana Shikongo of the Slut Shame Walk (SSW) organising committee, a member of the new #MeTooNamibia movement alliance, said at the launch yesterday.

Shikongo said the ultimate aim of #MeTooNamibia is to shift the current cultural mindset around issues of rape, sexual abuse and harassment and to kickstart conversations about consent, among other issues.

“It's not about sending perpetrators to jail. It's about changing the core of the culture. And I think that's why we have been saying there have to be other steps aside from just dealing with the perpetrators. It's about eradicating the entire problem throughout our society.”

Shikongo stressed that the movement is not exclusive to women, but to anyone in need of support or who wants to help the end the status quo.

“It's our nation's movement.”

She said the backlash the movement has already experienced, including threats to many who have spoken out is “an attempt to once again muffle the voices of those who have been violated”.

The #MeTooNamibia movement alliance consists of Lifeline/Childline, the Namibian Women Lawyers Association, Regain Trust, Bel Esprit, the Office of the First Lady, the Legal Assistance Centre and several other partners.

Veronica Theron, technical advisor to the Office of the First Lady, yesterday said the #MeTooNamibia alliance consists of organisations that deal with the issues at hand on a daily basis, offering a team of fully-fledged professionals to support survivors and their families.

Speaking on the issue of false claims, a concern and criticism the #MeTooNamibia movement has raised, Theron said those falsely accused are advised to seek professional help and have the option of laying charges, the same route open to survivors.

Theron nevertheless noted that in her experience “false claims are about 1% of all cases reported”.

Why now?

“The #MeToo movement happened on a social media platform because a lot of these women felt that their voices weren't being heard. That the people who they shared their story with, were not taking them seriously,” Charlemagne Husselmann of Lifeline/Childline Namibia explained yesterday.

She said it's not about public shaming, but for many survivors social media was a platform that enabled them to “have their voice and story heard, for people to take them seriously”.

Activist Alna Dall said instead of asking “why now”, the question should be: “Why this? Why so many accounts of sexual assault on women? Why do men in our society not have a clear grasp of consent? Why have they, repeatedly, used their positions, strengths and privilege to objectify and sexually assault the bodies of young women?”

First Lady Monica Geingos said yesterday the #MeToo movement is being driven by a “different generation of young women who do not accept what we accepted”.

She said the role the organisations that have joined the #MeTooNamibia alliance is to support, amplify and protect the voices of those spearheading the movement itself.

“This not our movement; it's the movement of those who were brave enough to stand up.”

Geingos noted that few, if any women in Namibia, have been exempt from some type of sexual harassment, coercion, sexual assault or rape.

“Every single woman sitting in this room, if they read the definition carefully, has somehow either been coerced, sexually assaulted or raped, and continues to deal with the untreated trauma related to that. So if we didn't get assistance for ourselves, we have an obligation to give it to those brave enough to speak up.”

Theron added that despite the challenges and fears related to holding perpetrators accountable, speaking up is crucial.
“When we deal with the survivor, I tell them straight that its’ not about winning or losing the case. Your role is to tell the truth”.
She warned that the “culture of silence and secrecy and condemnation” has contributed to severe suffering by survivors and allowed perpetrators to continue abusing.
James Itana of the Regain Trust said sexual violence remains the most commonly reported form of gender-based violence in the country.
He warned that the current backlash against the #MeToo stories and survivors is disappointing and called on men to stand up and support the movement.
“We are very quick to pitch this as a battle against the sexes, but we forget that we are fathers, we are brothers, uncles, friends and it doesn’t make sense for me to say the issue of sexual assault is an issue that only affects women. It is something that directly affects us as men.”

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