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Civil society shocked by parliamentary debate on Domestic Violence Bill.

While civil society organisations welcome the tabling of the Combating of Domestic Violence Bill, there is widespread shock, outrage and disbelief at the level of debate by some members of parliament. Sister Namibia invited a number of NGC) leaders to air their views.

We need the Combating of Domestic Violence Bill because there are many people who are afraid to lay a charge after being abused by a family member. Sometimes you see your neighbour's child living in such violence but at the moment your hands are tied. If this Bill comes through it can help me to lay a charge and stand up in court to tell what is going on there.

Many women and children stay in violent situations and relationships because they do not have any place to go, leaving them no choice but to keep silent. With the new law women don't have to leave their homes but can get a protection order to keep a violent partner away.

Actually this law is not only for women, it is for everybody who experiences domestic violence. I think some men are resisting it because they are losing their power to keep women under their thumb. They are afraid of relationships based on equality and mutual respect with women. They think they own the woman and her body when they have paid lobola, and want to practice polygamy at the same time.

I think many women in parliament are afraid to debate these issues publicly because they fear being ridiculed by their male comrades. They are waiting for the women outside to raise their voices. But it is high time that they speak up and defend this Bill, and that is why we want 50 percent women in there. If there was gender balance in the parliament this Bill would have been passed long ago, but due to women being only 26% they are easily silenced.

I do not have respect for these men because if they had respect for women they would not have spoken like this. They are married and I do not know how their wives feel about this. If it was my husband I would expect him to go back to parliament and apologise to the women of this nation.

Ottillie Abrahams, Namibian Women's Association

It is frightening to think that in our society, women and children are most at risk in their own homes. Domestic violence is so pernicious because it is perpetrated by the person you share your bed and table with, making it so difficult to run away. And when women do run for their lives, the reaction of the police in the past has been really terrible, telling them that this is a domestic matter in which they cannot interfere.

It shows that our society is not equipped to deal with this issue. I think it is high time that women and children get protection in the place they call home, the place where you let down your defences. Violence against children is escalating to the extent that not even nine-month old babies are spared from rape. This was a society that always felt very tender and protective towards children; now it has become a society that eats itself up.

Regarding the level of debate by some members of parliament I have only one word: disgusting.

If men can talk about their sexual urges at a time when babies are being raped by family members, then all I can say is that I am disgusted. What irritates me is that whenever something concerning women comes up, these men have to ridicule it and raise irrelevant issues such as their sexual urges.

What disturbs me further is that many women members of parliament are quiet. Are they there to protect their male comrades who are making these jokes? You have these lone voices that are speaking up but I don't see the women coming together and speaking with one voice.

Has the Parliamentary Women's Caucus come together and strategised how to push for this Bill? If not, why have a caucus at all? But what actually hurts me the most is that my tax money is paying for these parliamentary sessions in which women are still being labelled as witches in the 21st century.

Christine Aochamus, Namibian Girl Child Organisation

This Bill is long overdue. Many laws important to women and children have been omitted up to now and it is really time to consider them urgently. Women have been excluded from decision-making and this is a reason for the long delays. At the same time it is mainly women and children who are being violated and abused. If we have a law such as this one I think justice will be served.

I feel embarrassed and disgusted listening to some of the people who are debating this Bill as our leaders. They are there to serve the people of Namibia, and to take the lead when it comes to building a culture of respect and social responsibility, instead of hiding behind traditional beliefs such as witchcraft. We need men in parliament who are capable of being role models for our boys.

Some women are now speaking on this issue in parliament but I would like to see greater support amongst the women in parliament. They should unite as women and put party-political differences aside. It is the only way they can truly represent the girls and women in our country.

We also need to make sure that the law is actually implemented. The people who provide services such as police officers and nurses need to be trained. For example, when you go to a police station to lay a charge there are all these men standing around listening - there is no room for privacy, so as a violated woman you feel intimidated there as well.

At every meeting of the Namibian Girl Child Organisation we have a session where we speak of our rights as girl children and of human rights. We educate ourselves on laws and discuss social changes that we would like to see in our country. We are working to decolonise our minds, and we realise that we need many more women in parliament to lift the level of debate on issues of concern to girls and women.

Veronica de Klerk, Women's Action for Development

When the Married Person's Equality Bill was debated in 1996 male lawmakers resorted to passages in the bible to justify why that Bill should not be passed. Now that they are debating the Combating of Domestic Violence Bill some claim to be afraid of being bewitched by women. What next are they going to come up with?

I think it is about maintaining their power over women and also to cover the fact that they feel insecure. Men know how strong women are because they have experienced the strength and power of their mothers. I was hoping for more respect and dignity towards women since the passing of the Married Persons' Equality Act, but many men still have this thing that they should be in charge, in control. I really did not expect that this is still so pronounced and am quite shocked about that.

Do men protest against a Bill like this because they might be living a double life - a city life where they pretend to respect women and children, and a life at the homestead where they beat up their wives? What man who respects the woman he loves would oppose this Bill? To me that person is suspect.

I think some of the women MPs are not speaking out because they have been subjected to negative cultural practices in the past. Men have made the rules for their convenience, that is why they are protecting them with everything they have.

Many women have adhered to this notion that whatever the man says is law; we do not oppose or question that. Women may also feel threatened by the fact that male decision makers are in the majority, so their own position could be at stake if they voice their opinion too boldly in parliament. This is a shame because we are counting on those women in parliament to speak up.

From what I have seen this is an excellent Bill, which obviously does not suit men who are guilty of abusing women and children. I am definitely in support that violent men should be removed from their homes and still be liable to support their families.

I trust that our lawmakers will work out mechanisms to effectively bring the Combating of Domestic Violence Act to the people so that it will notjust gather dust like the Married Persons' Equality Act.

Rev. Nakamhela, Namibian Men for Change

I know domestic violence exists in our communities, not only from my involvement in Namibian Men for Change, but also because I co-manage a shelter for battered women and children. We work together with the

Women and Child Protection Unit in Katutura. Last year we accommodated about 28 women and children because of domestic violence. Almost daily I expect somebody new at the shelter because of domestic violence.

My involvement comes from my experience as a pastor, where women who are violated run to the parsonage and often it has not been easy to accommodate them.

Women need protection orders as provided for in the new Bill so that they can stay in the safety of their homes instead of running for help in the middle of the night and exposing themselves and their children to more violence from other men.

Namibian Men for Change was established to propose a process of change, a process of transformation, a process of self-definition of our manhood. We look at ourselves as men and ask: can we say we are responsible men, good husbands and fathers, and if so, how and because of what? We want men to understand and change their harmful attitudes and the way they are treating women and children so that women and children can trust us as men.

We support the Combating of Domestic Violence Bill because it supports our vision of transformation, of bringing about positive change that will bring more freedom, security and equality.

I believe some men are resisting because they have not reflected on the culture we come from that tells us we have to have a strong position in our marriage.

Men fear that the Bill will force them to give up some of their power and weaken them by empowering women and also children to claim their rights to human dignity and respect. Men are afraid of sharing power equally between husband and wife.

RELATED RTICLE: Quotes from the debate in parliament

Jesaya Nyamu, Minister of Trade and Industry

"I will fight such a law to death. If he (the Deputy Minister of Justice who tabled the Bill) was making a statement of substance that they will enter our bedrooms. I will fight it,"

"The content of this Bill was smuggled in from Finland and has nothing to do with domestic violence."

Helmut Angula, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

"You can't deny me what you have contracted to honour in church when we married. This unreasonable denial of sex must also be accommodated in the Bill." "It has the capacity to cause violence and when you deny somebody sex every day it can cause serious consequences. We have emotional feelings and that (denial of sex) can lead to psychological disturbances."

(Becoming gay and lesbian) is all because of sexual denial, As a biology teacher, I know how the body functions,"

You don't know what is phallus? In other words, you find what apparently Hon Moongo said, there are a host of people who can wear nice shoes, drive nice cars, but they are disabled. They are disabled. The partner knows the guy is disabled, let him go, where can he go? He will come back because he is disabled. It is known to the whole village. Even the muti person knows: I gave the muti to disable this fellow."

Margareth Mensah, Deputy Chair of the National Council

"I wonder what the qualification is for lawmakers that some of us are even against the Domestic Violence Bill (and are) stating that impotency is the fault of women's witchcraft."

Libertina Amathila, Minister of Health and Social Services

"Our older men like to marry ... 20-year-olds who would want to have more ... Now when you can't perform you start beating your wives accusing them of witchcraft," "Gentleman ... these illnesses (erectile disorder) can be treated. Don't sit and wait."

Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Women Affairs and Child Welfare

"It is common that when we discuss issues that affect women it's always jokes and no seriousness. What message are we taking to people who have elected us when we joke about such serious issues?

"You are sexist and chauvinistic and that is against the Swapo constitution."

Source: The Namibian
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Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:2160
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