i. Women and the law
In theory, the Namibian Constitution protects the rights of women and views them as equal under the law; however, the legal reform process which Namibia has undergone since independence has not necessarily translated into attitudinal and behavioural changes. For example, the Married Persons Equality Act 1 of 1996 granted women equal legal status within their household, yet in practice few women enjoy equality within their family; similarly while the Combating of Rape Act 8 of 2000 outlaws rape within marriage, most men still believe that their wives are obliged to provide them with sex on demand. Furthermore, ‘Common Law’ is still adhered to in many areas, particularly in the realm of rights and ownership; this practice almost invariably discriminates against women and denies them basic rights which are upheld in the national constitution. The perpetuation of common law is made possible through two key factors: a general ignorance amongst the population regarding their rights; and a lack of social or economic empowerment amongst women which prevents them from claiming their rights even if they are aware of them.
ii. Gender roles and opportunities
Gender stereotyping pervades all levels of Namibian society, and gender roles are narrowly defined through a traditional and typically conservative Christian perspective. Women are seen as subordinate to men across all cultural groups, and they are socialised to be obedient; to tend to the household; and to produce and take care of children. In the rural areas, women are primarily providers of necessary food and crops for the household, while also producing cash crops for market and earning a household income. Women are under-represented in Namibian politics, although the situation is gradually improving. There are currently 31% women in parliament and 41% elected to positions at a local level In Namibia, unlike many other Southern African countries, more girls access primary and secondary education than boys due to the fact that many boys are withdrawn from school to help tend cattle. However, there is a high drop-out rate of girls from secondary education as a result of teenage pregnancies, and more young men receive tertiary education than young women. These differences have important implications for future employment opportunities, and it is estimated that 56% men in Namibia are employed compared to 41% women. Ultimately, women constitute the majority of the unemployed, the poor, and the dispossessed.
iii. Gender-based violence
Violence against women is a serious problem, and rape and domestic violence are widespread. In most rape cases, victims know the perpetrator, and rape is often committed by a family member or friend. Rape victims seldom press charges, as families in Namibia prefer to settle matters privately. Because of strong social pressure, complaints are rarely brought against perpetrators of spousal rape; however, in 2003 the Namibian government adopted updated anti-rape legislation which broadens the definition of rape and allows the perpetrators of spousal rape to be punished. Young women are in particular at risk of sexual violence, with a recent WHO study revealing that among girls who had had sex before the age of 15, one-third reported that it was forced, while a further 38% of girls reported that they were coerced.