|The latest issue of Sister Namibia|
It is important to understand the difference between gender and sex. A person’s sex refers to their biological anatomy, whereas gender is a social construct that allows people to identify as feminine or masculine. The understanding that gender and sex always match is perpetuated in Namibia. Oftentimes, sexism is upheld in the name of tradition or religion. This has been very difficult for us to understand because gender roles in the United States are not as strict or unequal as they are in Namibia. If we attend a barbeque in the United States, the men and women will probably play equal roles in the food preparation, distribution, and clean up. However, in Namibia, it is not uncommon to see the women cook all of the food, serve it to the men and clean up before eating the meal. Examples of sexism such as these are often defended in the name of traditional practices. While we know that this is not true for all Namibians, is has been intriguing to see how gender exists in differing traditional practices.
Sexism is especially prominent when considering HIV/AIDS. Women are often denied the right to take place in decisions surrounding sexual activity and reproductive health. One result of this is that men often refuse to use condoms with their partners, which enables the spread of HIV. This is partly because masculinity within Namibia is tied to frequent sexual acts with multiple partners. Yet it is still considered shameful for a woman to have sex before marriage or to have multiple sexual partners. This double standard is very frustrating and difficult to understand. It raises a lot of questions for us about gender roles in Namibia. We have come to realize that this same double standard about gender exists in the United States as well.
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