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International womens day: what does it mean to men?

International Women's Day ... almost unconsciously to a man, they smiled when I asked what the day meant to them. This time, I was the one to go into stereotype and tried to guess what ran through their minds. I thought maybe something like--'Didn't we have that last year?... I thought we were done with this Women's Day thing!'--would be near the mark.

Instead, the six Namibian men interviewed for this story spoke out on who their heroines were and why they chose those particular women. They applauded the women and urged Namibian men to open themselves to the winds of change and empower themselves to live in peace and harmony with the women in their lives. Their responses revealed awareness that life for the ordinary woman out there was hard, and they all agreed that this was not fair.

Ian Swartz

Ian Swartz is the Executive Director of the rainbow project in Windhoek. The project advocates for the equal rights of sexual minorities in Namibia.

Swartz believes CoD opposition party member Rosa Namises has made a difference to the lives of women and children in Namibia. "Besides being an active member of parliament with logical and researched arguments, she is also a person with a lot of guts. It takes guts to stand up as a woman with divergent views and claim the right to be heard in a male-dominated parliament like that of Namibia," he said.

He described Namises as an established community leader who remained in touch with the grassroots. "She set up a daycare centre where domestic workers can leave their children. People trust her," he said.

Swartz also appreciates her empathetic nature and her willingness to interact with people in all their diversity. "She is able to share with others. At one time, the men at the rainbow project felt they were being 'taken over' by the women. Rosa walked in here and explained why gay men, who generally suffer discrimination in society because of their sexual orientation, should understand the double discrimination of lesbian women, as lesbians and as women. She explained why women were fighting for their space at the project, and by the time she left, the once-angry, ready-to-picket group of gay men were silent in appreciation of what had just been revealed to them.

"I think Rosa is one of the few female representatives in parliament who actually represented women," Swartz said. According to him, Namibian men are in a crisis.

"The traditional head and provider of the home now has to contend with a woman by his side who equals his income and is able to survive on her own. The traditional role is no longer needed. Men feel quite lost and blame it on women instead of trying to fit into 'modern Africa'. Women have kept up with the times, but men have stayed behind," he said.

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He commended organisations such as Namibian Men for Change, which are trying to explain the issues of modernity versus tradition. "Currently, the burden on the Namibian woman is too great. She is carrying the two burdens of the traditional and the modern African way of life. She has to cook and clean--and she has to work. "The wellbeing of women should be part of our daily psyche, especially in Namibia where we are not only looking at issues of poverty but also the HIV Aids crisis that has left many women holding on to family units so that they do not disintegrate. It is unfair that a grandmother should be taking care of her dying daughter and her grand-children--men need to be more supportive," he said.

"International Women's Day is an opportunity for those who do not believe in women's rights to engage with those who do," advised Swartz.

Pohamba Shifeta

Soon to join the Namibian parliament, Pohamba Shifeta, speaking as Secretary-General of the National Youth Council, said his favourite Namibian woman was the indomitable Ann-Marie Jacobs of Katutura. This physically-challenged woman in a wheelchair has found the means within her soul to accommodate a number of children who are homeless, and the physical means to feed them. Shifeta said International Women's Day brought to mind women like Jacobs, women who give, and give, and give ...

He wondered what it was that made many men of his generation turn their backs on their mothers, their sisters, their partners in life, and violate or allow their human rights to be violated through domestic violence. "I do not believe that our African culture teaches anything like that. Let us go back to caring for our families as men; caring for our children in light of the HIV Aids pandemic that has hit our country," he said.

"Women are the most vulnerable sector in society. They lack the power to prevent things happening to them. This could be both physical and economic power. Young women especially, lack the power to negotiate in relationships and so they find themselves agreeing to things which lead to them getting infected."

He urged fellow men to take the 2005 International Women's Day seriously and make it a turning point for their family life. "It's time we thought of the amount of care our children are receiving ... How can you not know where your ten-year-old child is at ten o'clock at night?" he asked.

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"I feel that a man has to provide security for his children in terms of shelter, food, love. As a man you must know where your child is at any time. Children learn from their peers, so know who their friends are," he emphasised. "We need to bring back the African concept of 'my child is your child.' Whenever you find a child doing something wrong, do something about it. Do not sell alcohol to your neighbour's child," he pleaded.

Harold Pupkewitz

"I think three Namibian women have made a difference in Namibia," said Harold Pupkewitz, Namibian business magnate.

"Inge Zaamwani, the managing director of Namdeb, is representing Namibia admirably in the field of business. She's got the academic qualifications, unblemished character, charismatic personality, and a sound thinking ability about business. She understands the national interest and national issues, and has a broad informed approach of how to deal with them.

Finally, she has sound leadership and management capacity, and she's a nice person.

His second choice was Gwen Lister. "The editor of The Namibian newspaper is another remarkable woman. I don't know her that well, but in my mind, she deserves recognition for the battle she fought for democracy before independence and the battles she continues to fight for entrenchment of constitutional rights since independence. Her balanced editorials on various issues, which enlighten the public, and her role as a watchdog of the people is also to be commended."

"The third woman I think needs to be mentioned is Veronica de Klerk. She has for many years run Women's Action for Development. Her passionate, dedicated, single minded, determined manner of leadership serves to enthuse people to do things as they should be done, that is, honestly, truthfully, productively, and efficiently."

Pupkewitz thought International Women's Day was important to the wellbeing of women in Namibia. "It is of tremendous value to this nation because of the cultural history of sidelining women. The men in this country do not appreciate the role of women despite President Nujoma speaking about it. Their attitudes are deeply ingrained and it will take many more years for women to find themselves at par with men.

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"I think anybody fighting for women's rights is fighting a national cause," Pupkewitz stated. I thank Sister Namibia for giving me an opportunity such as this to join this cause. International Women's Day should be celebrated in a manner that makes an impact on society, especially on children. Overall, I would say that in many vocations, women are better than men ... Men may be stronger, but women are tougher, and that is how nature made it."

Amos Shiyuka

Amos Shiyuka is the Captain of Civics Football Club, a club popularly known as the 'Bethlehem Boys" and currently placed at the top of the Namibia Premier League. Shiyuka chose Dr Libertine Amadhila and Michelle McLean as being, in his opinion, women who have made a difference to Namibia.

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"Dr Amadhila has contributed to the improvement of women's lives by engaging in many health projects. I think she has led by example and I think she inspires many women. Michelle McLean has also played a significant role through her Children's Trust," said Shiyuka.

Shiyuka thought Namibian men are still stuck to traditions where the man is the head of the household and does not regard his wife as a partner in the home. "Lots of men do not want to learn to compromise. I think they need to get involved with women's rights so that they stop regarding women as mere cooks or housemaids," he said.

He urged women to rise to the present challenge and not be resigned to living in the shadow of men, especially in the business world. "In business, management is still the man's arena. We need balanced representation of women in both the political and the business world."

However, the biggest challenge for women, according to Shiyuka, lies in the fact that they become victims in their own homes. "Women need to speak out about what is happening to them in their homes," he urged, and asked men to stop turning their wives into punching bags. "I have no respect for a man who beats his wife but would not like to see his mother being beaten."

Shiyuka pointed out that wife battering presents serious psychological challenges for most children, which becomes evident when boys start engaging in violence by beating up their girlfriends even before they get married. "Let it be International Women's Day every day of our lives because women have suffered for too long."

Reverend Ngeno Nakamhela

"Let me start by saying I'm coming from a woman, my mother--who did not demand compensation for her love and care for me," said Reverend Nakamhela of the Lutheran Church.

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The Reverend commended his mother for having made a difference in his life, leading him to his vocation as a full time Minister.

"I know that the first person to accept the Biblical message in Namibia was a woman. I know women who have participated in the process of change--the liberation struggle, women who have worked for political and economic emancipation. And I believe that women have worked in emancipatory development more than men," he said.

According to Reverend Nakamhela, women have developed their personal lives, and this has moved them ahead in their roles of development. "Men think they have achieved and so they are stuck. We feel threatened by this positive development in our wives, our daughters and so some of us resort to domestic violence. We believe that our say has been taken away from us. We are used to the 'quietness' of women, but that time is gone."

Reverend Nakamhela does not think that men in Namibia are supportive of women's new roles.

"Men support women to the level of--'what do they want?' They still do not value what is coming from women. But there are men out there who believe in partnership, men who recognise the importance of working together."

The Reverend's message for International Women's Day is for men to remember that they were born of women. "In most cases, the treatment of women makes it clear that men have forgotten this fact! Even the world's greatest men all came from women. If there is someone who deserves credit for the great man Kofi Annan, for example, it is his mother--a woman.

"Every day, men should give credit to women ... respect them as they respect their mothers, otherwise life will be full of hypocrisy," he concluded.

Allistair Pitt

Allistair Pitt, Principal of Jan Jonker Secondary School in Katutura, Windhoek, believes that Veronica de Klerk of Women's Action for Development (WAD), has played a significant role in the lives of women and children in Namibia. He says that in the past few years, De Klerk has asked the Jan Jonker school choir to sing at various conferences and workshops organised by WAD. This has opened up opportunities for the school to engage in a number of national events.

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And at those meetings, Pitt saw the practical work of women from around the country through art and crafts or other income generating ventures that had started with the help of WAD.

"I could see the enthusiasm on these women's faces, especially the rural women. WAD created a sense of self worth in them. I think de Klerk should be commended for opening the eyes of these women to see what's good and what's bad in our Namibian culture," he said.

Pitt thought the major challenge faced by women was their own 'mind-set'. "To come out of that way of thinking that you are inferior is important for development."

For Pitt, it was a tricky question as to whether Namibian men supported women in the fight for equal opportunities and human rights. "Yes, there are some men giving substantial support to the education of their daughters. At schools, and in churches, the education of the girl-child is being emphasised. The disappointing thing is these crimes of violence--rape and sexual abuse of girls.

Some men think the only way to stay in control is to abuse women ... yes, a good part of the male population still resists change.

"On International Women's Day, we should pay tribute to women. The focus is on men to appreciate women as equal partners," he urged
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:opinion of Namibian men
Author:Mwondela, Chilombo
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:2282
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