Friday, April 15, 2011

Exploring the North: Week 2

Authors: Arianna, Cassie, Patrick
Week 9: 14-20 March

On the second week of our travel seminar through the north of Namibia we visited Oshakati and Etosha. Our group was lucky enough to hear presentations from a variety of organizations that included the Etunda Irrigation Project, University of Namibia’s (UNAM) Oshakati Campus, and the Oshakati Town Council. As with every travel seminar that we have experienced so far, by the end we were left with more questions about Namibia than we had originally. We were exposed to a variety of perspectives which challenged us to critically think about certain views we had formed about Namibia.

(Left: UNAM Oshakati Campus)

Paulina Uugwanga, Director of the Oshakati Campus, informed us about her students, community engagement, and issues UNAM faces. Paulina made a statement that allowed me to reanalyze my consciousness about the dangers Namibian women were facing. Although I knew that Namibia has high rates of violence against women, teenage pregnancy, and other issues regarding the treatment of women, I had allowed them to become abstract issues within my consciences. Paulina informed us that female students are more vulnerable to violence, unwanted pregnancy, and assault because they live in their own neighborhoods, as UNAM does not have dormitories for students. In other words, female students face more danger in their homes and neighborhoods than they would if they lived on campus. This statement really struck me because the women she was talking about and the danger they faced were no longer abstract. I had seen many of these women while taking a tour of the campus. They were students just like me and these issues are the reality they are facing. How would I feel if this were my reality?
Furthermore, I understand that violence against women and unwanted pregnancy are major issues in Namibia, but it’s difficult for me to acknowledge it to this extent. I wonder if some of these women feel safer at UNAM than in their own homes. I am not in any way saying that the entire north of Namibia is a horrible dangerous place for all women unlike any in the world. What I am saying and what I am reanalyzing is how much I have allowed my consciousness to become desensitized to the dangers women are facing, within not only Namibia, but also around the world. How am I going to be more aware of the level of desensitization of my consciousness? At the same time I also have to be aware that this (Left: Group Photo and UNAM Oshakati Campus) was only one statement by one person (Pauline) and that I could have misinterpreted or misunderstood what she had told our group.

A prominent topic of discussion during our second week of the north was women’s roles in the north and how those roles contributed to their opportunities and treatment in society. At my (Cassie) home-stay, my meme was the head of the house in a sense. She ran everything, but that also meant that she was expected to do all of the work. She works as a nurse during the days and then gets home and starts cooking dinner. Afterwards she cleans all the dishes and takes care of my host nephew Junior. In the morning she wakes up before everyone to prepare breakfast. My host father retired five years earlier, so she had become the sole provider in terms of income as well. As dissimilar as some of (Above:Cassie at her homestay in the North) other CGE students found this to roles of women in the US, I actually saw this as similar. While there isn’t always an overt requirement of women to take care of the home on top of all their other responsibilities, this is often the case.

According to a University of Missouri study in USA Today, women in the US still do more housework and parenting then their husbands or male partners (website maybe?). I found this particularly interesting, because while the rights of women and the views on which rights they should have appear much more liberal in the US, they still occupy very similar roles to women in Namibia. I can’t help but wonder how two countries, which seemingly place very different value in women, still have them in the same roles? Another CGE student, Amanda, also found this to be an interesting case. Her host mother was a freedom fighter and a nurse, as well as someone who was very involved in political and social issues, but still had the view that women shouldn’t occupy a role such as President. I find it interesting that from my experience in Namibia, women take on such a large amount of the workload in a family life and are now also more involved in the work force, yet I have also experienced them as being valued as less important members of society than men. (Below: Cassie's host Grandmother's "traditional" house)

From our stay in the north, it was clear that many of us did not experience traditional families consisting of a mother, father, and children. Instead, we experienced families with cousins, uncles, and grandparents all living together in a variety of family dynamics. The role of the women in the household was greater for some because men were required to go to southern areas of the region to work on farms and therefore were away from home for long periods of time. These work methods put strain on the families because other members were required to take on a heavier share of the household work in the absence of those away on farms. The number of people working on farms away from their homes also showed the scarcity of jobs in the region and the lengths that needed to be taken in order for a family to earn a living and be able to support themselves. I can imagine that it would be very hard for a father to be away at a farm for months at a time, working daily, without being able to see his family and only being able to talk to them on the phone a few times a week. It would also be hard for a young child to have little contact with their father. These experiences help me appreciate the family I grew up in and the advantage of being in a home with both parents present.

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