Reflection On Women and Politics – What Next? How Next? [opinion]

By Michael Conteh, THE situation of women in Namibia cannot be understood without a thorough understanding of the historical, political, social and economic conditions of Namibia.

It involves a critical examination of the on-going effects of pre-independence apartheid society as it constructed women’s lives in terms of race, gender, religion, as well as varying traditional practices among different cultures and geographical locations and of the differences between urban and rural life. It was the situation described above that motivated women in Namibia to become very active in politics and to participate in the liberation struggle for the independence of the country.

Women’s active participation in the liberation struggle according to Namibian historiography dates back as far as 1904 when Herero women voluntarily launched their historic sexual strike to pressurize men to fight and end the German occupation. They dared not to bear a child until the war against the German colonialist was over. Furthermore, Namibian women’s resistance against the former South African colonial regime was seen as a direct confrontation. Women in Windhoek were in the forefront to challenge the then Administrator General of the South African apartheid regime. On 10 December 1959 they declared enough was enough!

They demanded that the administrator should drop plans to forcefully relocate the residents of the old location to a new apartheid style black township of Katutura. This was a remarkable step by women and it also resulted in the killing of a famous woman militant, Kakurukaze Mungunda. She became the first woman activist to be killed by the South African army. It is no surprise that 10 December is designated as Namibia Women’s Day and a public holiday to pay tribute to the bravery and heroism of the late Mungunda and all Namibian women. The death of Mungunda symbolised the gendering of the war of resistance and the armed struggle and also confirms that it is on 10 December 1959 that the Namibian people resolved to adopt armed struggle as the only response for their freedom.

When Swapo eventually launched its arm struggle on 26 August 1966 at Onghulumbashe in northern Namibia, women also joined their male counterparts in the prolonged and bitter struggle. The formation of the Swapo women’s council facilitated women’s involvement in many spheres of the liberation struggle, including the leadership of the liberation struggle i.e. some women were members of the central committee of Swapo of Namibia and the military council of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia. Since the 1970s the Swapo women’s council has made considerable headways in organising women in the country to join the liberation struggle.

Namibian women also played a crucial role in Swapo during the armed liberation struggle and the emancipation of women from sources of oppression both colonial and traditional was central to their aspirations. Women were trained as soldiers in all military fields in the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). Historical evidence further suggests that as the struggle developed, PLAN female fighters became specialised in military disciplines such as nurses, artillery marksmanship, radio communication, anti-air defence guns, sabotage, reconnaissance, intelligence and even as drivers of military vehicles. A large number of women in Swapo underwent military training and fought side by side with men.

The government adopted a constitution, which is the fundamental law of the country. It recognises the previously disaantaged position of black men and women and encourages the implementation of affirmative action policies, which aance women’s social status and roles within society (GRN 1990: Article 10 and Article 23). The constitution further commits Namibia to the elimination of all discriminatory practices based upon, among other things, sex, colour and race. With the abolition of apartheid and the establishment of a democratic government, gender equality is enshrined in the constitution, which declares that discrimination based on sex is against the law.

Through the constitution, Namibia acknowledges and encourages equal power relations and treatment of women and men in all spheres of political, social, legal and economic life. Given this background, it comes as no surprise to women in leadership positions, albeit heavily controversial for the male folks within political party structures, on the implementation of the 5050 representation of women in politics and decision making as stipulated by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

The question that remains unanswered and which is currently being debated in many quarters of the political landscape of Namibia as we approach the elections in November 2014 is whether it will be practical to implement the 5050 in Namibia. Are there capable women within the political party structures to make the numbers, and whether in fact the 5050 will not compromise the quality of leadership in the country. These legitimate questions will be examined closely in my next article drawing from the 2009 election in Namibia, as well as examples from the SADC region and the African continent.

Michael Conteh Is a Gender and Development Expert

Source : New Era