This week, Namibia saw the start of the second Land Conference, an ambitious initiative aiming to lay some groundwork to redistribute some of Namibia’s most productive assets. Various solutions have been proposed to remove barriers of socio-economic advancement in order to enable previously disadvantaged persons to access productive assets and opportunities of empowerment. This discussion is rather strangely focused on the landless, and for some reason does not seek to address the current crippling recession in Namibia with economically viable solutions. It did, however, highlight another group of previously, and some would say currently, disadvantaged persons.
This is a group comprising 51.4% of the population, and which the Swapo Party itself recognised when it committed itself to equal gender (zebra) representation. I’m referring, of course, to women. And while our Constitution in Article 10 states, “No persons may be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status, “ and in Article 14 states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality, religion, creed or social or economic status shall have the right to marry and to found a family. They shall be entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution,” it took until the 1996 passage of the Married Persons Equality Act to grant women their full, constitutional, rights.
Until 1996, if she was married under civil law, a woman’s autonomy was restricted due to Dutch-Roman common law. She was treated like a child! No married woman could bring a case to court! She could not sell or buy property! She could not sign a contract, take out a loan, be a company director… Not any of this, without permission from her husband. In addition, if married within community of property, the husband had control of their joint estate, even though half of everything belonged to her.
It can thus not be said that any group has been quite as historically disadvantaged as women. And the advantages of empowering them are quite phenomenal. Women tend to do more work in caring for families – in fact, on average, women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men and 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick). In our country, women are the ones who tend to communal farms! Why are they not highlighted at the current Land Conference? Why aren’t they prioritised?
And yet, when women are empowered, spending patterns change. Women tend to spend more on child welfare – and children are our citizens of the future. Anything that benefits them, benefits the nation. When women join the labour force, the country has faster economic growth! In fact, about 25% of the economic growth in developed countries over the past 50 years is due to increased education of their girls.
For every additional year of education a woman receives, child mortality drops by 9.5%. It is estimated that if women farmers receive the same access as men to productive assets, agricultural output could increase by 2.5% to 4%. In fact, women contribute substantially to food production worldwide. They often grow the majority of staple crops for domestic consumption and petty trading, and raise chickens and other smaller animals. Could they not manage the farmland envisaged by the Land Conference to be redistributed?
And women are paid less than men. Women in most countries earn on average only 60 to 75 % of men’s wages. Yet, more women than men work in vulnerable, low-paid, or undervalued jobs. But women’s economic equality is good for business! Companies greatly benefit from increasing leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organisational effectiveness. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organisational effectiveness.
But here in Namibia, 32% of married women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence at least once since age 15. Further, 33% of married women aged 15 to 49 report having experienced physical, sexual, and/or emotional violence from their spouse. Among married women who had experienced spousal physical violence in the past 12 months, 36% reported experiencing physical injuries. Six percent of women reported experiencing violence during pregnancy. Sadly, 15% of Namibian women who have experienced violence have never sought help and never told anyone about the violence.
Why is it that more than 20% of Namibians believe that husbands are justified in hitting and beating his wife if she burns the food, or argues with him, or goes out without telling him, or neglects the children, or refuses sex? Why do we live in a country where 24% of females aged 15 to 24 had rape as their first sexual encounter? Why do those females aged 10 to 14 who’ve had a sexual encounter report that in 42% of the cases it was rape?
Violence perpetuates violence, and allowing it in a household raises children that perpetuate it. Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. This violence against women (73% committed by people known to the victim) paints a picture of a still-disadvantaged segment of our society – a picture we should urgently change.
The data compiled by the Namibia Statistics Agency for the Land Conference revealed that only 23% of farms are owned by women. This is a matter that should be addressed, as global data suggests that gender inequality is strongly correlated with national poverty levels. Our ruling party has shown that it is willing to do what is necessary to close the gender gap – but it needs to do more. In 1996, the Marriage Equality Act made a man and a woman joint heads of the household. If we want to build a united Namibian House, it is time we did the same with our country.
Desmond P van Heerden, HonsBComm (Stell) is the Chief Analytics Officer of Trustco Group Holdings Ltd. Previous articles available online at http://toi.hopto.org/. He can be contacted at DesmondV@tgh.na