Saturday, December 09, 2006

Namibian Women in Focus: Under Siege; Small Business Development; Overcoming Poverty

Women Under Siege

Articles Taken From New Era of Namibia

Friday, 8th of December 2006
By Wezi Tjaronda

The Namibian supplement to the State of World’s Children 2007 says entrenched views that women play second fiddle in society is holding back the nation’s development.

This is because women who constitute more than half of the population are unable to contribute and participate. With some nine years to go before achieving the Millennium Development Goals, Namibia faces enormous challenges especially regarding MDG 3, which is about achieving gender equality and empowerment of women.

The theme of the report is “Women and Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality”.

The supplement, which was launched yesterday during the celebrations of UNICEF’s 60th anniversary, highlights gender-based violence, the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls and gender inequality in political participation as manifestations of a deeply rooted belief among both men and women that women are meant to take secondary roles in society.

Prime Minister Nahas Angula said of all forms of discrimination and inequality manifested in society, gender based violence is the most extreme.

To achieve MGD 3, Angula said, the country should pay special attention to female-headed households who are among the poorest, illiteracy among females which holds them from gainful employment, discriminatory beliefs that deny them access to health care, and children of poor and illiterate women who suffer greater consequences of ill health and early death from preventable diseases.

Although these are the most critical issues, which need to be changed for Namibian women and girls to realise their rights, Namibian society is also dogged by inheritance rights, property grabbing against widows and orphans, poor maternal health, lack of access to productive employment and other forms of discrimination against them.

Of the three issues, gender-based violence stands out as the most serious manifestation of society’s attitude towards the physically weaker sex, adds the publication.

Police statistics indicate that cases of rape have increased from 550 in 1991 to 1 150 in 2005 with targets being women of all ages, from infants to elderly pensioners.

The publication says based on reports, women and girls across Namibia are under siege not only in their homes but also at schools, hostels, streets and workplaces.

Forced to Leave Home and Family in Order to Survive

By Petronella Sibeene

She wakes up early in the morning, at least by 06h00, cleans up a one-roomed place where she lives with her fellow countrywoman. An hour after jumping out of bed, they start their 3 kilometre-long journey on foot to get to the spot where they market their merchandise.

“I am originally from Zimbabwe. I am a widow and, given the situation back home, I am here to do business. I sell drawers, chairs and tables,” says Anna Gumede, aged 40 years.

It all started when her husband of many years passed away. With little support from relatives, she finds herself flat broke with two small children to support.

While her husband was still alive, Gumede was a housewife who did not just stay at home but, during her busy day of fulfilling wifely duties, she would also knit items such as jerseys and sell them to supplement her husband’s salary.

Being a single parent to two boys aged 14 and 8, and with no one to turn to for help, she could not just continue with her knitting business at home, also given the flooded market.

With the performance of African economies in general, and Zimbabwean in particular, Gumede found life in her home country hard.

“In 2000 I decided to come to Namibia. I knew there were other people who had crossed borders for greener pastures. I knew I had to do something about my situation and with the little money I had collected from selling my things (jerseys), I bought small baskets and clay pots,” she narrates.

Always seeking to improve her lot in life, Gumede decided to embark on a different business which she hoped would enable her to gain some financial stability. She left Zimbabwe and her two sons behind, in their own care.

The courageous woman found herself on a bus heading for Windhoek, a totally new place – needless to say, a foreign land. She met other women and men searching for the same treasure as herself.

“I managed to find one room with my other friend (also a Zimbabwean) where we pay N$400 per month,” she says.

“Business was not bad at all” and, within a few months of trading in small baskets and clay pots, she decided to “grow big” and started bringing in drawers, and chairs.

“A drawer sells for N$350 and three pieces of chairs are sold for N$1 500. All her prices are negotiable,” she said.

From 07h30 when her business opens until 5pm when it closes, Gumede does not only wait for potential customers but spends her day polishing her commodities and trimming her baskets. In a day she sells one or two items, and during the “good days” such as at month-end she can sell about five items.

With the little profit she makes, she has been able to support her children and send them to school in the past six years. As an African, she also helps other relatives.

“I go home every month, anyway; it depends on how much profit I make and in what period. I miss being at home most of the time but, given the circumstances, I just have to continue with my business,” Gumede says.

She describes Namibians as understanding people, but adds that there are some who mock them, understandably – xenophobia is everywhere. She intends to expand her business even further by venturing into selling textiles.

Gumede says that in the past men were proudly in charge of providing for the family but, with the socio-economic problems in the world of today, things have changed. Women leave what was once regarded as their rightful place – the kitchen – and now go to look for what should be in the kitchen – food.

“I encourage fellow women to do some form of business to support their children. We are living in a world where for every little thing you ‘throw’ into you mouth, it costs money,” she advises.

She graciously stated: “Poverty and a lack of support did not deter me from searching for a better life and securing a future for my children.”

Gumede’s lifelong struggle to survive poverty is really the story of many, although there might be a slight difference in the form it takes.

A man in his early 20s, a diploma-holder in marketing with two years’ experience in this field, today sells hand-made crafts in the streets of Windhoek.

Like many others, Gift Moyo came to Namibia three months ago to seek greener pastures.

“I am here because of the economic conditions and hardships experienced at home,” he says.

He explains that there are many factors which have prompted many people to leave their countries of origin, but the most prevailing one is poor economies.

After gaining experience as a sales person, he decided to start his own business, involving the rearing of chickens. When the economic situation became bad in his country, business was also affected.

“I sold chickens, but then things became bad … chicken became a luxury to most people and, because of such factors, I had to venture into a business which would bring in foreign currency,” he says.

For three months he struggled to raise ZW$12 million (±R1 000) which he needed at the time for transport purposes and buying goods for sale.

“I bought wood carvings and other things such as African bracelets. Those were the things I brought.”

Quite new in this country, and business as well, he describes the three months as full of “mixed fortunes”. According to him, his situation has improved slightly, though there are certain challenges.

It is difficult to find a place where one can fully establish oneself. Further, obtaining a business visa has always remained a headache in Namibia.

“I could be better off where I am now than those back home, but surely this is not what I had planned for my life,” says the young man.

Bleak Christmas for Prostitutes

Friday, 8th of December 2006
By Anna Ingwafa

For many parents, the festive season is traditionally a time to spoil their loved ones, but for a group of sex-workers – sheltered, fed and clothed by Stand Together – this is a time to struggle and try to make ends meet.

These sex-workers are concerned about the fact that life is getting harder since the health of their ‘guardian angel’ and mentor, Father Herman Klein-Hitpass, has slowly started to deteriorate.

“This father who cares for us is very old and has been sick for some time now, and we are afraid of what will happen after he goes” complained Heinnelie van Wyk, a member of the Stand Together group.

The group is afraid that their situation is weakening and forcing some of their members, who were willing to change their lifestyle, to go back to the street.

Herman Klein-Hitpass, a Roman Catholic priest, founded this day-care 11 years ago which provides sex-workers with food, shelter and hope. He also provides them with condoms to help them prevent contracting HIV/AIDS.

According to Van Wyk, there are a lot of sex-workers being looked after by Klein-Hitpass, and the number is increasing by the day.

The group feels that the government is not doing enough to eradicate poverty, which leads to prostitution.

“What is the government doing to fight poverty if we are still on the streets selling our bodies in order to feed our families and pay our municipal bills?” Van Wyk asked.

She is concerned about the number of children – some as young as nine years – who are engaged in prostitution.

She urgeds the government and other stakeholders to help these young people with projects or provide them with homes and money to pay their school fees so that they can have a decent life.

She said the majority of the sex-workers at the centre are HIV-positive and are unable to find decent jobs.

“There was a time when some of us tried our best to break away from prostitution and we went to look for work. But the moment you tell your employer that you’re HIV-positive, they get rid of you”.

Klein-Hitpass keeps Stand Together operating with donations from Catholic parishes in Germany.

Namibia currently has an unemployment rate of over 30 percent, and the prospects of getting a job outside of prostitution are slim for many sex-workers as they are not educated.

In the absence of intensive efforts to assist sex-workers, they remain vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

According to the latest Namibia Labour Force Survey, which was presented to Parliament earlier this year, 36,7 percent of the country’s population is currently unemployed, up by 1.7 percent since the 2004 UN Human Development Report. About 35 percent of Namibians live below the poverty line of one US dollar a day.

This is enough reason for women to engage in the oldest profession in order to support themselves and their families?

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