Video: Eba Kandovazu
THE #MeToo movement, which began in the United States less than two years ago in response to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by especially powerful men in the entertainment industry, has landed in Namibia and is gaining traction by the day.
The #MeToo movement swept Namibia last week Tuesday when a young woman accused a Zimbabwean student at the University of Namibia (Unam), Kudakwashe Gonzo, of fondling her private part without her consent.
Her story, shared on social media, opened the floodgate for many other female students at the institution who had similar run-ins with Gonzo to come forward and tell their stories.
Since then, the hashtag has become a rallying cry against sexual assault, with women across the spectrum lifting the veil on their sexual abuse by men in the law fraternity, law enforcement, entertainment industry, finance and accounting industry, and others.
Social media platforms were flooded with #MeToo stories and outrage, highlighting what has always been a taboo subject in Namibia, as well as the extent of sexual violence committed against women and the culture of silencing the victims.
It also sparking the intervention of the Office of the First Lady in assisting the victims with legal and psycho-social support, which, according to First Lady Monica Geingos, includes offering shelter to survivors who are being threatened.
This morning, a press conference was held in Windhoek where alliance partners, including Regain Trust, Lifeline/Childline, The Namibian Women Lawyers Association, Nixon Marcus Public Law Firm, Bel Esprit Private Mental Hospital, Slut Shame Walk, UNFPA, the Office of the First Lady, Namibia Coalition against Gender-based Violence, Sister Namibia, and the Legal Assistance Center, threw their weight behind the #MeTooNamibia movement.
Technical director in the Office of the First Lady and healthcare practitioner, Dr Veronica Theron, said over 200 women and girls last week alone came forward raising issues of sexual violence, which resulted in seven women opening criminal charges against their alleged perpetrators and 40 people being publically named and accused of sexual assault.
“Through the #MeTooNamibia psycho-social support team, we have been able to provide support to survivors who have reached out to us through the Office of the First Lady, Slut Shame Walk and through personal pages that shared our availability to assist survivors,” said Theron.
A legal team has also been put in place to provide assistance with dealing with threats from perpetrators, as well as registering cases with the Namibian police.
“We wish to give assurance that we are following the due legal process with no intention to unduly influence the system. Each case will be dealt with on an individual basis and investigated thoroughly in terms of the law,” noted Theron.
Alna Dall, founder of Namibia’s coalition against Gender Based Violence, said it is important to clarify that the movement is not a gender battle and encouraged men to support the movement instead of “dismissing and derailing the painful lived experiences of these young women.”
“A floodgate has opened and our first response is to ask “why?”, “why this, and why now?” The Why now is the easiest to answer. We live in a new era of empowerment. Social media has given the survivors of sexual violence an opportunity to seek safety in numbers. For the first time in history, we can encourage one another to put aside the shame, to ignore the stigma surrounding sexual violence, and to speak out. Women have found an insurmountable form of courage and some of them have been brave enough to name their perpetrators,” said Dall.