Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets of the Namibian cities of Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Otjiwarongo after the authorities discovered the remains of 20-year-old Shannon Wasserfall who went missing in April 2020, Al Jazeera reports. The demonstrators are expressing outrage and demanding political action against the rise of sexual gender-based violence in Namibia.
At least 25 women’s rights activists were arrested over the weekend of 10 October, and the protests have prompted the Namibian government to launch an urgent review of the demonstrators’ demands for tougher penalties for rape and sexual abuse. Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, the first female premier of Namibia, said in a statement that the government is taking the protesters’ demands seriously. “We have been working around the clock to review the demands and assess the key areas that we intend to respond to, including enhancing the policy, legal, and institutional safeguards,” Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said.
The protesters in Namibia have been praised widely, with many activists expressing their solidarity through social media. “This [protest] is long overdue,” said women’s rights activist Rosa Namises in an interview with Reuters. “Women will no longer be silenced and I am happy young women are at the forefront.” The hashtag #ShutItAllDownNamibia has trended on social media during the protests, which refers to the protesters’ calls for the declaration of a state of emergency in order to tackle violence against women. The protesters have pledged to keep demonstrating until substantial political action has been taken by the Namibian government to address femicide, rape, and sexual abuse in the nation. “We just want to be able to go out of our house after 6 PM and feel safe,” said Bertha Tobias, a 20-year-old protester in Namibia’s capital city of Windhoek.
Sexual gender-based violence has been a serious issue in Namibia—specifically intimate-partner violence against women and girls, sexual violence by non-partners, and femicide. According to Al Jazeera, reports from earlier this year stated that police were receiving at least 200 cases of domestic violence every month, and more than 1,600 cases of rape were reported during an 18-month period ending in June 2020. Additionally, lockdowns and stay at home orders put in place to curb the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made life especially difficult for victims of domestic violence who have been forced to self-isolate with their abusers.
Ndapwa Alweendo, spokesperson for non-profit organization Sister Namibia, said that the root of the sexual gender-based violence issue is the stigmatization of victims. Alweendo also argued that the problem in tackling this issue in Namibia is not a lack of expertise, but rather the existence of a disconnect between the government and civil society organizations like Sister Namibia. “There have been two national action plans against [sexual gender-based violence] that have been developed [in 2016 and 2018],” she said. “The plans exist, but they are not being put into action. There’s a back-and-forth between government and civil society. Criticism of the government is often seen as an attack.”
It is imperative that the government of Namibia addresses the issue of sexual gender-based violence immediately and listens to its citizens who are pushing for a safer environment for women and girls. Femicide, rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse should not be tolerated in any country across the globe, including in Namibia. The government should listen to the demands of the protesters and implement policy accordingly and with haste, as the issue of sexual gender-based violence is urgent. Women and girls living in Namibia deserve safety and justice, and it is the responsibility of the government to put strong measures in place to ensure that they are protected.