Amid Progress on Women's Rights, Namibians see Gender-based Violence as Priority Issue to Address

n 2021, Namibia ranked sixth-best among 156 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index, tops for an African country. Namibia also ranks third among African states (after Rwanda and South Africa) for women in representative positions, including 44% of seats in the lower house of Parliament – not to mention Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, who has been prime minister since 2015. In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 5 calling for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, Namibia’s National Gender Policy (2010-2020) seeks to ensure that every sector of the economy emphasises the importance of gender and empowerment. The policy also provides a broad definition of gender-based violence (GBV) as referring to “all forms of violence that happen to women, girls, men, and boys because of the unequal relations between them” as well as all acts that could cause people “physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or economic harm,” citing among its causes “customs, traditions and beliefs, illiteracy and limited education, unequal power relations and the low status of women”. The policy was operationalised through a Regional Gender Permanent Task Force and the implementation clusters of the National Gender Plan of Action (2010-2020). The Child Care and Protection Act of 2015 and the National Plan of Action on Gender-based Violence (2012-2016) strengthened the legislative and policy framework for combating GBV and gender discrimination. Despite the government’s efforts, gender equality remains a goal rather than a reality, and some analysts point to reports of increased GBV during the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence of a “shadow pandemic”. In April 2020, the remains of 20-year-old Shannon Wasserfall were found in a shallow grave six months after she went missing – a murder that fueled nationwide #ShutItAllDown protests against GBV. In her response to protesters’ petition to the National Assembly, the prime minister identified several measures to strengthen the policy and legal environment to deal with GBV, including the establishment of a sex offenders’ register and special courts to handle sexual and GBV offences, a review of sentencing laws for sex offenders, and an investigation into the expedition of current murder and sexual offences before the courts. This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender-based violence and of gender equality in control over assets, hiring, land ownership, and political leadership.