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Key findings
  • Namibians see gender-based violence (GBV) as the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and society must address.
  • A majority (58%) of Namibians say it is “never” justified for a man to physically discipline his wife. About four in 10 think it is “sometimes” (26%) or “always” (13%) justified.
  • Strong majorities say women should have the same rights as men to get paying jobs (69%) and to own and inherit land (84%).
  • Six in 10 respondents (61%) say that the Namibian government is doing a “fairly good” or “very good” job of promoting equal rights and opportunities for women. Less educated and poor citizens are less likely to approve of the government’s performance.

In 2021, Namibia ranked sixth-best among 156 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index, tops for an African country (World Economic Forum, 2021). Namibia also ranks third among African states (after Rwanda and South Africa) for women in representative positions, including 44% of seats in the lower house of Parliament (IPU Parline, 2022) – not to mention Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, who has been prime minister since 2015.

In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 5 calling for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, Namibia’s National Gender Policy (2010-2020) seeks to ensure that every sector of the economy emphasises the importance of gender and empowerment (Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, 2010; UNFPA, 2012).

The policy also provides a broad definition of gender-based violence (GBV) as referring to “all forms of violence that happen to women, girls, men, and boys because of the unequal relations between them” as well as all acts that could cause people “physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or economic harm,” citing among its causes “customs, traditions and beliefs, illiteracy and limited education, unequal power relations and the low status of women” (Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, 2010, p. 29 and p. 53).

The policy was operationalised through a Regional Gender Permanent Task Force and the implementation clusters of the National Gender Plan of Action (2010-2020). The Child Care and Protection Act of 2015 and the National Plan of Action on Gender-based Violence (2012-2016) strengthened the legislative and policy framework for combating GBV and gender discrimination (Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, 2017).

Despite the government’s efforts, gender equality remains a goal rather than a reality, and some analysts point to reports of increased GBV during the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence of a “shadow pandemic” (Herestofa, 2021; Sitali, 2020).

In April 2020, the remains of 20-year-old Shannon Wasserfall were found in a shallow grave six months after she went missing (van der Schyff, 2020) – a murder that fueled nationwide #ShutItAllDown protests against GBV (CIVICUS, 2021; Zhakata, 2020; SBS News, 2020; Asala, 2020; Melber, 2020).

In her response to protesters’ petition to the National Assembly, the prime minister identified several measures to strengthen the policy and legal environment to deal with GBV, including the establishment of a sex offenders’ register and special courts to handle sexual and GBV offences, a review of sentencing laws for sex offenders, and an investigation into the expedition of current murder and sexual offences before the courts (Kuugongelwa- Amadhila, 2020).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender- based violence and of gender equality in control over assets, hiring, land ownership, and political leadership.

In Namibia, citizens say that gender-based violence is a common occurrence and constitutes the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and the country must address. Most consider GBV a criminal matter and believe that the police take GBV cases seriously.

On women’s rights more broadly, strong majorities express support for women’s right to equality in hiring, in land ownership, and in political leadership. But sizeable minorities also consider it likely that female candidates might suffer criticism, harassment, or family problems.

Overall, a majority of Namibians approve of the government’s performance in promoting equal rights and opportunities for women, although many say greater efforts are needed.

Christiaan Keulder

Christiaan Keulder is the national investigator for Namibia.

Kelechi Amakoh

Data analyst for Afrobarometer and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science, Michigan State University.