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16 days of no Violence Against Women.

The 25th of November is the International Day for the Prevention of Violence Against Women. The day was originally declared by a group of women in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1981 to commemorate the deaths of the Mirabel sisters, who were brutally murdered in the Dominican Republic for speaking out for human rights.

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The United Nations recognised this as an international date in its calendar in 1991. Over the years the women's movement linked this day to the International Human Rights Day on 10th December, and developed the 16 Days of Activism on Gender Violence, which has become a worldwide campaign with activities stretching from 25 November to 10 December each year. In Southern Africa the issue of HIV and Aids has recently been included in the campaigns.

Violence has reached a crisis point

Many civil society organisations and government departments are gearing up for the campaign in Namibia, at a time when our country has witnessed some of the most horrific rapes and murders perpetrated against women and children. The nation is still reeling in shock at the brutal killing and decapitation of a 25-year-old woman in September, whose head had still not been found when this magazine went to press.

At a launch of the United Nations State of the World Population Report on October 12 this year, Prime Minister Nahas Angula condemned violence against women and said it had reached 'crisis point' in Namibia. "Deprivation of life is the most flagrant violation of women's rights and of our Constitution," he emphasised, calling for a new culture of 'zero tolerance' for violence against women.

The theme of the World Population Report was "Gender Equality, Reproductive Health and the Millenium Goals". The report called on the world's leaders to fulfill the promises they made to women and young people in order to meet poverty reduction targets, universal access to reproductive health services, and gender equality as part of the Millenium Development Goals to be attained by 2015. Violence against women is the ultimate expression of inequality between women and men.

Challenging the culture of violence

Events planned by Namibian civil society this year for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence and HIV Aids include community workshops on gender violence, nationwide cyber dialogues through Schoolnet, and nationwide marches. There will also be television and radio programmes involving both adults and children.

In the meantime, Women's Solidarity Namibia (WSN) has kicked off a series of consultative regional workshops on gender based violence, the first being held in Windhoek recently for the Khomas Region. The objectives of the workshops are to establish the extent of violence against women and children, what activities that address gender based violence there are and how WSN's activities at national level can support activities at local level.

Participants at the Khomas workshop were disappointed to find that even though there are many civil society organisations and state departments active in this region, most activities focus on the post-violence period rather than prevention. One of the challenges also identified was that those organisations that are active lack the skills, funds and capacity to bring about tangible behaviour change in the communities they work.

How do we challenge and change cultures, traditions and religions that entrench gender inequality through the daily construction of male superiority and privilege, leading men to believe they have the right to decide over women's and children's bodies and lives? How do we overcome the stigma and discrimination from family, society and the church that women experience when they leave an abusive relationship?

Over the coming months, Women's Solidarity Namibia will have consultative workshops in the remaining 12 regions of the country, which will inform the work this national feminist organisation plans to do to challenge and change the existing culture of violence.

Additional reporting by Natasha Tibinyane
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Title Annotation:GENDER VIOLENCE
Author:Mwondela, Chilombo
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Words:639
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