Thursday, April 18, 2013

Week 13: Analyzing Feminism in Namibia

Post by Joe Rossi and Hannah Anderson

The latest issue of Sister Namibia
Throughout our time in Namibia, we have noticed that gender roles are often very different from those that we are used to in the US. Gender roles and relationships in Namibia are influenced by cultural norms, as well as colonialism and Apartheid. For example, at my (Joe) internship today, a man called the AIDS Care Trust. When I answered, the man asked if he could talk to “my woman.” It appeared that this man on the phone expected the secretary to be female and felt uncomfortable with a male playing that role. We often encounter sexism in our daily lives in Namibia and our classes and experiences this week allowed us to examine these issues in depth.

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.

Joe is getting ready to read Sister Namibia
We were lucky enough to visit Sister Namibia, one organization that is working to address gender inequality in Namibia. Their main work is the quarterly publication of a feminist magazine. They also do community outreach programs and public discussion forums to generate a dialogue on gender. Mimi Mwiya and Laura Sasman, two of the three full-time staff members at Sister Namibia do most of the writing, in addition to some guest writers. Unfortunately, there is little local financial support and most funding comes from a Swedish nonprofit organization. The magazine focuses on everything from relationships and HIV/AIDS to equal employment and gender-based violence. In the future, Sister Namibia would like to focus on creating access to safe and legal abortions in Namibia as well as a larger campaign on ending violence. Sister Namibia has become one of the largest voices for gender equality in Namibia. With 6000 copies being distributed each quarter, they are definitely reaching a significant part of the population, but there are still a lot more people to reach. One of the issues surrounding Sister Namibia is that it is published in English. Most Namibians are more comfortable with other languages, which makes it even more difficult for people to benefit from Sister Namibia’s work. This makes appealing to the masculine population even more challenging. Hopefully in the future Sister Namibia will be able to publish in more languages and gain a larger male reader base. We were sad to see that they often struggle with financial support, but excited to see such a passionate and empowered staff working for change. We hope for their continued success and that more organizations strive to do as much as Sister Namibia!

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