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Gender Equality Starts at Home
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Original broadcast date: 06 April 2009
Program: Your Rights, Right Now! a weekly radio show from the Legal Assistance Centre.
Broadcast on: BASE fm, 106.2


We hear a lot about gender equality.
But what’s it all about?
Why is it important?
Obviously men and women are different, and have different things to contribute to relationships.
Today on Your Rights, Right Now, we’re looking at gender equality inside relationships.


When you talk about gender equality in Namibia, you often get a negative response.

Many men feel threatened by the idea of ’50-50’, and women may take the situation out of context.

While many people know that the Constitution of Namibia and laws such as the Married Persons Equality Act, this concept of gender equality is often misunderstood.

Equality is not about both husband and wife doing all the chores together, or making every single decision together. Instead it is about sharing the decisions and tasks and not sticking to gender stereotypes.

But when gender equality is not respected, as we’re about to learn, things can go very badly.

You’re about to hear the words of poet Maya Angelo. As you listen, think how the bird described could be a person.

(guitar music in the background)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

(music fades out)

In fact, the writer of this poem, Maya Angelou is not just talking about a caged bird.  She is talking about how humans can feel caged when they are restricted. This can be how women feel when they are not considered equal to men.

The story you are about to hear further describes why gender equality is important. The story is fictional but probably describes many real situations in Namibia.

I had a boyfriend once that I really loved. He really loved me too. You know how I knew?

Well, he used to tell me he loved me. All the time. He used to buy me things – cell phones, clothes, jewellery. He used to buy me nice jewellery. But there was something about him that I didn’t like – he never let me go out with my friends. Sometimes he would leave town and I would have nothing to do.

So I would call up my friend, Tessa, and see she if she wanted to go out – you know, just to have a drink or something. When David found out, he was not happy. The first time I tried to go out without him, just me and the girls, he started yelling and screaming, calling me all sorts of names.

At first I couldn’t even understand why he didn’t want me to go. After a lot of yelling I finally understood that he was worried that I might start looking at other men. I almost laughed out loud. I tried to tell him I loved him and that I didn’t want to look at other men – I just wanted to see my friends.

But that made him even angrier - he thought I was being disrespectful to him. Then I started to get angry. “Why don’t you trust me?” I yelled at him. Then he hit me. Hard. On the face. I stopped yelling. Then in a very quiet voice he told me one final time – you will not go out without me. Then he left. I didn’t go out with Tessa.

This happened several more times. After a few black eyes and one trip to the hospital for stitches, I learned my lesson not to put up a fight. At least then he wouldn’t beat me.

Plus, sometimes he could be so nice about it. He would tell me that he didn’t want me to go out because he loved me and he wanted us to do things together as a couple. He loved me, he said. He loved me.

I kept telling myself that over and over. It was true, right?
One time he was leaving town for two weeks. It was the same old thing – before he left he made sure to tell me not to go out. The first day, I was very obedient. The only place I went was Shop Rite. The second day, I didn’t go anywhere. I tried to call my mom who lived 200 kilometres away, but I didn’t have enough credit on my phone. The third day I started to get bored, and lonely. But I didn’t leave because I wanted to show David that I loved him. Plus, I knew the consequences if I did go out. The days passed. I didn’t have anything to do. I didn’t even have a television to watch because David had given it to one of his friends to use while he was gone. I couldn’t leave. I was a caged bird.

When David returned I was so excited. To show that he loved me he had brought me a beautiful necklace. I loved it, but it didn’t make me feel better about sitting at home for two weeks. I decided that maybe I could talk to him about it. He was leaving town again the next week, so after dinner, I brought it up.

That was a mistake – a mistake that left me with a bruised cheek, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken finger. But afterwards, he told me he was sorry. And that he loved me. I tried to tell myself that that made it okay. He loved me, right?

Wrong. I finally realised it.

He didn’t love me. What he does to me was not love. It’s not even close to love. I realised that everything he had been doing was wrong. He has no right to tell me what I can and can’t do.

I am not his possession.
I am not an animal.
I am a person.
A free person.
An independent person.
A strong person.

I have just as much right as he does to come and go as I please. Why does he think he has the control? Is it because he’s physically stronger? Is it because that’s what he saw in his own family? Because it is his culture to tell women what to do? Culture can change. It just wasn’t right! I couldn’t believe I had put up with it for so long. Now I saw the truth.

He was no better than those colonizers who oppressed Namibia, than those who oppress any country or people. He was the same.

Why couldn’t he see that? He who talked so hatefully of racist oppressors, but why couldn’t he see that he was doing the same thing? I didn’t see it for a while either, but all of a sudden I did. And I had had enough.

So when he left, I decided to go out! I called up Tessa and we went to get something to eat. I don’t even remember what we ate. I didn’t care. I was just so excited to be there. Excited, and a little nervous about what would happen if David found out. He didn’t find out this time, or the next time.

But eventually he did find out. That night, when David was supposed to come back from one of his trips, I got a phone call from a friend telling me he knew I had been out and was on his way home, madder than ever. I panicked. I knew exactly what was going to happen when he got home.

What should I do? Should I run? Should I hide? I knew he would find me eventually.

I thought about it for a minute and then made my decision. I was going to take a stand. I would not live with this any longer. I felt chills all over – for the first time in my life I was standing up for the rights I deserved.
Of course I still had one problem – David was still much stronger than me. What would I do when he attacked me? I knew he would be home soon, so I had to think quickly. And then I came up with an idea, not a good idea, but an idea. I heard him get out of the taxi outside.

As he was walking to the door he had already started yelling. I heard the keys in the door.
Then the doorknob turned. David came rushing through the door, but stopped short, in midsentence.

There I stood – my clothes stuffed with pillows, wearing a motorcycle helmet that bounced around on my skinny head and holding a child’s plastic hockey stick, up in a swinging position. I don’t know what I thought I could do. I had stuffed so many pillows in my clothes I could barely move. I must have been a sight! But I was fired up and ready to fight!

But then something happened I didn’t expect. David started laughing. And he kept laughing.

He laughed so hard tears started streaming down his cheeks. As hard as I tried to resist it, his laughter was contagious. I let out a small giggle. Then another. Then another. Soon we were both laughing hysterically.

Though inside I was still a little scared of what might happen when we stopped, I felt like the tension was gone and I was okay.

Eventually the laughing did stop. I looked at David. He looked back at me. After a long
silence he said he was sorry that I was so scared of him and that he just wanted to protect me.

I told him I just wanted to spend time with my friends. He nodded and said he understood.

He paused for a few minutes. He didn’t say anything for so long that I thought maybe he had fallen asleep. Then he said it would be okay if I went out with Tessa while he was gone, I just had to tell him in advance so he would know where I was. I thought about it.

Was it worth it to stay? Would he really change? What should I do?


I left him. I didn’t want to put up with his abuse any longer. I deserved to be able to make
decisions for myself and to be free, and it was clear that would never happen as long as I was with David.

It would be hard without him, I knew. He bought me a lot of things I wanted, and needed. Plus it was nice to have somebody there, to be part of a “couple.”

But I knew I would make it without him. And do you know what? I did.

When people fight for gender equality, they are trying to prevent situations like this.

This story describes how inequality in a relationship can lead to violence. David thought that he owned his girlfriend, that she was a possession he could control. David did not love his girlfriend because he hit her and beat her. That is not love and it is not respect.

The aim of gender equality is to allow men and women to have equal decision- making in a relationship. If David had understood what gender equality means, he would never have hit his girlfriend because she has a right to make decisions.

He does not hit his male friends, because he respects them. He hits his girlfriend because he does not respect her.

Domestic violence is against the law. It should not happen.

Everyone deserves to be in an equal relationship where you are respected. If you are in a violent relationship, take it seriously. Make a plan for your safety.

If you feel that you cannot talk to someone you know, consider speaking to a trained counseling who can give you advice and support. You can join a support group or contact a social worker or call Childline/Lifeline for help. You can call 061 232-221 and a social worker may be able to give you personal counseling, or refer you to a specialised counselor. Childline and Lifeline provide 24 hour telephone counseling services. Again, the number in Windhoek is 061 232-221.

Partners who abuse are almost always committing a crime. The legal system is there to protect you and prevent a similar situation from happening to other people in the future.  

You can get legal help by:

• Making an application for a protection order at a Magistrates’ Court.
• Going to the police. If the abuse amounts to a crime, such as hitting which is assault, rape, or stabbing which may be attempted murder, you can lay a charge with the police.
• You can also Ask the police to give the abuser a formal warning about their behaviour if you do not want to lay a charge.

For more information about equality in relationships, contact the Gender, Research and Advocacy Project of the Legal Assistance Centre. The phone number is 061-223-356.


You’ve been listening to Your Rights, Right Now, a production of the Legal Assistance Centre. The music you’ve been listening to is courtesy of Nancy. This show was made possible, thanks to the efforts of Blossom, Rachel Coomer, Julie Holt and Mark Nonkes.

Remember human rights start at home. For Your Rights, Right Now, I’m Belinda Hamburee.






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