31/03/2017 12:43 BST | Updated 30/03/2018 06:12 BST

The Nightmare Of Living With Violence: Women In Namibia


'Ah these South African men like to hit their wives,' laughs one Namibian man in the costal city of Swakopumund, Namibia. We're watching a South African TV show and the man on the TV is aggressively pushing the woman on the screen. Nobody in the room blinks an eye.

Throughout my travels in Namibia, everyone I met spoke about gender based violence. 'It's a problem in Namibia,' they explained.

It certainly does seem to be a problem as I move around a neighborhood in Swakopmund. I walk past a group of men who are swinging beers around, despite the fact that it's still early in the day. They aggressively shout for me to come over to them, I feel extremely uncomfortable.

I get into a shared taxi, the main form of getting around in Swakopmund. Another man hops in. He sits right up next to me and refuses to move to the other side of the taxi, despite my requests for him to do so. He leers mockingly at me and seems to be enjoying my discomfort. I am so uncomfortable I get out.

A 17-year-old girl in Swakopmund told me how she also got out of a shared taxi because the men in the taxi made her uncomfortable.

I asked her if this is something that she finds to be common and she shrugs her shoulders. 'Sometimes the men get really drunk and they get really violent, sometimes they even kill the women,' she said.

Throughout my time in Namibia, the variety of conversations that I had with men and women from all parts of Namibia indicate that violence and harassment are a common occurrence for women and girls.

In Windhoek I met with a group of women at Sister Namibia, a local organization working to promote gender equality in Namibia. The group was a mix of both Namibian and European women living and working in Namibia. All of the women had stories to share which were mostly centred around sexual harassment.

In fact, all of the women I met in Namibia described daily cases of men catcalling in the street and generally behaving in a degrading way towards women.

For a Zimbabwean woman living in Swakopmund, men not taking care of their children is one of the biggest problems facing women in Namibia and Africa in general. 'They have children, one here and one there and then they leave them.' She thinks it's the majority of men who do this, at least seventy five percent.

'These men, they don't care,' she said as we walked down a dusty street in Swakopmund.

For a local man living in Walvis Bay, a popular costal town on the Namibian coast, he attributes the high levels of violence against women in Namibia to the way that women and girls are seen. 'Women are considered inferior,' he explains.

'These views combined with the large amount of alcohol consumed by men it is no surprise that there is so much violence against women in Namibia,' he said.

Sitting in a hair salon in Windhoek, I strike up a conversation with my hairdresser. While discussing the role of women in Namibian society she declares, 'I don't mind raping. The only problem I have is when they rape children.'

I look at her shocked and asked her why she thought in such a way.

'It happens because women go looking for it,' she explains.

I replied that if a woman was 'looking for it' then it wouldn't be rape. If it's rape, then that means she didn't want it so then she obviously did not go looking for it.

The hairdresser however insisted that women are to blame when they are raped. She explains that if a man goes to work to earn money, when he buys a woman a beer, she should have to sleep with him.

She then narrated a story of one evening listening to a man through her window beating a woman with a belt, he was angry that she had accepted a beer from him and was now refusing to sleep with him. She seemed to think this behaviour was justified.

I again look at her shocked.

I am shocked that this woman thinks that a man buying a woman a drink could be justification for rape and that that this level of violence against women could be acceptable. I wonder about what kind of environment she had grown up in, to make her think that women could deserve such violence and that men could be entitled to be so violent.

She then went on to recount a story of almost being raped, by a 16-year-old boy the previous week. She must have been in her mid 40s.

I asked her if rape was common in Namibia, she nodded her head yes.

Sonia Godinho, an Italian living and working in Namibia said that while there is a strong legal framework to protect women and girls rights in Namibia, cultural and traditional issues that discriminate against women and girls often override.

'It's a very patriarchal society, women are not respected the same way as men,' she explains. 'The whole society is violent.'

In Swakopmund I went to a local high school to speak about violence against women. At the end of my presentation one of the girls approached me and wanted to know more about how I had been able to travel, because she wanted to be able to travel as well. 'How do you manage to stay safe?' she asked.

I looked at her wanting to encourage her to travel and to expand her knowledge outside of Namibia. However, I couldn't deny that there was of course a threat to her safety, which would largely be due to the men around her.

It's unacceptable that in Namibia and throughout the world girls fear to leave their homes whether it is to travel down the street or to another country. When a young girl decides she wants to travel, her first question should not be, 'but how will I stay safe?'

All girls everywhere should be free to grow up with dreams of being able to move, of being able to travel wherever it is they want, without the fear of violence. We as a global community have a responsibility to ensure that the attitudes that permit violence against women and girls are not condoned and neither are those which make women believe that they are responsible for what men do. Under no circumstances does a woman ever 'deserve' violence and under no circumstances are men ever entitled to be violent.