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We can't expect violence to change until attitude do

Thursday, June 21, 2007
By Brigitte Weidlich
The Namibian

GENDER-BASED violence in Namibia will not be reduced unless the attitudes of men about women change for the better, and if men accept that women have the right to refuse sex, "no matter what the circumstances".

Speaking on Tuesday at the start of a conference to discuss gender-based violence, the Director of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), Norman Tjombe, said men and women alike in Namibia still did not believe that wives and girlfriends had "the right to decision-making control over their own bodies".

"It all boils down to respect.

There are men who believe they are entitled to respect simply because they were born as males.

Some men are prepared to 'punish' women as a way to demand respect or use force as a means of asserting social and sexual control over women," Tjombe told the 350 delegates.

Violence was widely viewed as an acceptable way to resolve disagreements between partners who supposedly cared for each other, and this was perpetuating a violent society.

"There is clearly something wrong with the message we are teaching our children about what it means to be a man and about the importance of respecting other people."

Gender-based violence was one of Namibia's foremost human rights problems and a recently completed LAC study on rape proved the point, the lawyer added.

Some rapists were just eight or nine years old; the youngest perpetrator reported to the Police was barely seven years old, the report found.

About 25 per cent of rape victims knew their perpetrators; some were close relatives.

Many cases were withdrawn from the court rolls because the victims were under pressure to do so as the families wanted to avoid scandal.

The culprits paid compensation (in the form of cash or cattle) through the traditional authorities, Tjombe quoted from the LAC report.

"The problem with this approach is that it leaves the rapist free to rape again.

It does not seem right that people who commit such a horrible crime should essentially be able to buy their freedom," he criticised.

The Combating of Domestic Violence Act of 2003 provided for victims to obtain a protection order from a court of law, prohibiting an abuser to have contact with a victim.

Some 750 protection orders had been issued so far this year and 1 500 orders over the past three years, Tjombe said.

"But the LAC has received several complaints that several protection orders are not enforced - especially if the culprit has a friend in the Police force.

On other occasions people who believe they are in danger with regard to domestic violence are sometimes sent away from the Woman and Child Protection Unit (of the Police) without receiving proper help."

The LAC Director then mentioned two traditional sexual practices that are devastating to young girls.

The first was the "sexual initiation" of a girl by an uncle or other male relatives, which Tjombe said was simply rape.

Another practice was to stretch the private parts of girls and women to "prepare them" for sex.

This practice was not only a violation of a girl's dignity but could also cause internal injuries and make girls vulnerable to HIV infection, he said.

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