Unravelling Taboos. Gender and Sexuality in Namibia

19 essays seek to unravel the misconceptions surrounding the concepts of gender equality, sexuality and sexual rights in Namibia
LaFont, S.; Hubbard, D. (eds.)
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Editors: Suzanne LaFont; Dianne Hubbard
Publisher: Legal Assistance Centre
Windhoek, 2007
Soft cover, 17x24 cm, 366 pages

Publisher's note:

The wide-ranging, insightful and provocative collection of chapters in this volume makes academic research available to any reader interested in the dynamics of gender and sexuality in Namibia today.

Nineteen essays by prominent academics and analysts seek to unravel the misconceptions, stereotypes and taboos surrounding the concepts of gender equality, sexuality and sexual rights in Namibia.

An Overview of Gender and Sexuality in Namibia

by Suzanne LaFont


"Man Marries Two Sisters: I can handle both - Hubby" read a recent storyline in the New Era.

The groom went on to say, "Everybody wants more than one car, house or cattle so why can I not desire more than one wife? ... It is my democratic right to have more than one wife and if the government respects human rights, it should not object to my marriage" (Tjiuma Kamberipa, quoted in New Era, 8 January 2007).

Such sensationalistic news reporting and the subsequent quote from the groom highlight some of the issues relating to the concepts of gender equality, sexual rights, democracy and human rights in Namibia. This volume seeks to unravel the misconceptions, stereotypes and taboos surrounding these ideas and offers suggestions for ways to move forward.

The advent of Namibian independence in 1990 created the opportunity for vast political, economic and social changes. Liberation offered the hope for the realisation of other forms of freedom, such as the restructuring of gender roles and sexual liberation. In many ways the new Constitution and legal reform have reflected this atmosphere of equality and the expansion of personal liberty.

However, independence has also fostered nationalism which in turn has fostered a self-consciousness about national identity and morality. The struggle for post-colonial national identity has sometimes involved the rejection of things foreign, including perceived immoral sexual attitudes and practices.

At the same time, a reverence for 'traditions', including those that deny gender equality and sexual self-determination, is defended under the auspices of nationalism.'

Human rights discourse is often at odds with the 'new' Namibian national identity and morality. There is a desire, especially among the young, to be modern, politically correct and Namibian, and at times it has not been easy to reconcile these sometimes contradictory notions in terms of national identity and statehood.

The idea that human rights include gender equality and sexual rights conflicts with some perceptions of Namibian 'traditional' values. On one hand, with some issues such as gay rights, perceived Namibianness has been given preference over human rights. On the other hand, adultery and out-of-wedlock births enjoy a high level of social and political tolerance even though they are not Namibian 'traditions'.

As the chapters in this volume reveal, women's rights, gender roles and sexual rights have been debated and contested. Post-colonial debates on issues related to gender and sexuality have been extensive, with topics ranging from HIV/AIDS to polygamy. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has brought issues related to gender and sexuality out of the closet, while at the same time, former President Sam Nujoma's infamous homophobic remarks have ensured that many gays and lesbians stay in the closet (or out of the country).

This chapter will introduce the other chapters in this volume, beginning with a brief description of pre-independence gender and sexuality, followed by a discussion of the dynamics of gender and sexuality in Namibia today.


1. Overview: Gender and Sexuality in Namibia
Suzanne LaFont
History: Colonialism, Christianity and Tradition
2. Making Tradition: A Historical Perspective on Gender in Namibia
Heike Becker.
3. Past and Present Practices: Sexual Development in Namibia
Philippe Talavera
4. The Myth of the Asexual Child in Namibia
Philippe Talavera
5. The Interrelationship of Ohango Ritual, Gender and Youth Status among the Owambo of North-Central Namibia
Sayumi Yamakawa
Legal Issues: Inequality and Law Reform
6. Ideas about Equality: Gender, Sexuality and the Law
Dianne Hubbard
7. Gender and Sexuality: The Law Reform Landscape
Dianne Hubbard
Youth, Gender and Sexuality
8. Adolescent Sexuality: Negotiating Between Tradition and Modemit)
Panduleni Hailonga-van Dijk
9. How Did I Become the Parent? Gendered Responses to New Responsibilities among Namibian Child-Headed Households
Monica Ruiz-Casares
10. The Social Context of Child Rape in Namibia
Rachel jewkes, Hetty Rose-junius and Loveday Penn-Kekana
Reproduction and Marriage
11. The Gift from God: Reproductive Decisions and Conflicts of Women in Modern Namibia
Martina Gockel-Frank
12. "We all have our own father!" Reproduction, Marriage and
Gender in Rural North-West Namibia
Julia Pauli
HIV/AIDS: Gender and Survival
13. The Face of AIDS is a Woman
LucyY. Steinitz and Diane Ashton
14. HIV/AIDS, Gender and Sexuality: Socio-Cultural Impediments
to Women's Sexual and Reproductive Autonomy
Lucy Edwards
15. The Economics of Sex Work and its Implications for HIV for Sex Workers in Namibia
Debie LeBeau
Same-Sex Sexuality: Silence and Discrimination
16. Breaking a Public Health Silence: HIV Risk and Male-Male
Sexual Practices in the Windhoek Urban Area
Rob Lorway
17. Same-Sex Sexuality among Damara Women
Elizabeth Khaxas and Saskia Wieringa
Gender, Sexuality and Power
18. Emotional Abuse and the Dynamics of Power and Control within Intimate Partner Relationships
S.M.H. Rose-junius
19. The Male 'Powersexual': An Exploratory Study of Manhood, Power and Sexual Behaviour among Afrikaner and Owambo
Men in Windhoek
Sheila J. Wise
Bibliography: Gender and Sexuality in Namibia
List of Contributors

List of Contributors

Diane Ashton, PhD is a US Fulbright Scholar and visiting Professor at the University of Namibia (UNAM). She is currently working as the Capacity Building and Organizational Development Advisor for the University Central Consultancy Bureau, where she mentors and collaborates with UNAM lecturers doing HIV/ AIDS research. She is a psychologist with international experience in applied psychology. You may contact her at dashton@unam.na.

Heike Becker, PhD is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. She is the author of Namibian Women's Movement 1980 to 1992: From Anti-colonial Resistance to Reconstruction (IKO-Verlag 1995); and an associate editor of Women Writing Africa: The Southern Region (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York 2003). She has also published numerous book chapters and articles in scholarly journals on gender in Namibian culture and history. Her current research interests are violence and memory in northern Namibia and the politics of culture in post-apartheid South Africa. You may contact her at hbecker@uwc3.ac.za.

Lucy Edwards is a lecturer in the Sociology department of the University of Namibia. She holds a Masters of Philosophy degree from the University of Cape Town. She is currently conducting PhD research on HIV/AIDS related mortality. You may contact her at lewardsjauch@unam.na.

Martina Gockel-Frank, MA, is a PhD student of Social Anthropology at the University of Cologne, Germany She is a member of Arid Climate Adaptation and Cultural Innovation in Africa (ACACIA), a multidisciplinary research project based at the University of Cologne. Her publications include Diversifizierung und politische Ökonomie der Damara im 19. Jahrhundert in Frühe Kolonialgeschichte Namibias 1880-1930. History, Cultural Traditions and Innovations in Southern Africa, W Mohlig, ed, (Bd 9, Köppe, Köln 2000), and co-authored with G Boden, Native North American Collections in Western European Museums: Replies to a Questionnaire (European Review of Native American Studies 1995 9:1). Her research interests are gender studies, demography and historical anthropology. You may contact her at mgockelf@uni-koeln.de.

Pandu Hailonga-van Dijk, PhD, is an Assistant Representative at UNFPA Windhoek, Namibia and co-founder of Baobab Research and Training Institute. Until recently Pandu was the Director of the Center for Global Education (in Namibia), Augsburg College. She has published numerous articles in both local and international publications. Her recent and relevant publications include: Violence, Rape and Murder: Symptoms of Societal Disease (The Namibian March 2005); Adolescent Sexuality and Reproductive Behavior: A socio historical analysis in Namibia, PhD thesis (Shaker publishers 2005); and Intergenerational Conflict and Adolescents as Counter-hegemonic Agents in Namibia (Sexuality in Africa magazine on Youth, Sexuality and Marriage in Africa 2006). Her research centres on adolescents' reproductive changes in Namibia and southern Africa with a focus on the interplay between modernity and traditional approaches to reproductive behaviors. Her interests include: adolescents, youth, children and gender; reproductive health; HIV/AIDS; and anti-racism/diversity and the decolonisation process. You may contact her at baobab.institute@iway.na.

Dianne Hubbard is the Coordinator of the Gender Research & Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre. She holds degrees in English Literature from the University of North Carolina (USA) and Stellenbosch University (South Africa), and a law degree from Harvard Law School (USA). She taught a course on Gender & the Law at UNAM for two years, and has served on subcommittees of Namibia's Law Reform and Development Commission on domestic violence, divorce and marital property In addition to numerous research reports and educational materials published by the Legal Assistance Centre (listed on www.lac@org.na), her other publications include A Critical Discussion of the Law on Rape in Namibia in S Bazilli, ed, Putting Women on the Agenda (Raven Press 1991); Should a Minimum Sentence for Rape be Imposed in Namibia? in Christina Murray, ed, Gender and the New South African Legal Order (Juta & Co 1994); D Hubbard and C Solomon, The Many Faces of Feminism in Namibia in Amrita Basu, ed, The Challenge of Local Feminisms (Westview Press 1995); and D Hubbard and E Cassidy Family Law Reform in Namibia: Work in Progress in A Bainham, ed, The International Survey of Family Law, 2002 Edition (International Society of Family Law 2002). Her main areas of research are gender-based violence and family law. Dianne may be reached at dhubb@mweb.com.na.

Rachel Jewkes, MBBS, MD is a public health physician and the Director of the South African Medical Research Council's Gender & Health Research Unit, based in Pretoria, South Africa. For over a decade she has led a research unit focusing on sexual violence, including child sexual abuse and intimate partner violence, and their intersections with sexuality and more broadly, health and health services in South Africa. Her work has employed qualitative research methods, social epidemiology, intervention evaluation and health systems research. She has published extensively on a range of different topics and over the last few years has developed a particular interest in intersections with HIV. She is also the Secretary of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, an initiative of the Global Forum for Health Research. She can be contacted at riG^kes^mrc.ac.za.

Elizabeth IKhaxas gained a BA, an Honours Degree and a Higher Education Diploma through the University of South Africa, and a Masters Degree in Gender and Education Administration through Deakin University in Australia. Ms IKhaxas was a teacher and a school principal for 14 years. In 1998 she worked as a Programme Officer for the Gender Desk of the Southern African Development Community in Gaborone, Botswana. Ms IKhaxas was a founding and volunteer member of both Women's Solidarity and Sister Namibia, and wrote extensively for Sister Namibia magazine. From 1999 to 2002 she was the director of Sister Namibia. Since 2004 Ms IKhaxas has been the director of Women's Leadership Centre, a feminist organisation which promotes women's art and writing. Ms IKhaxas was also a founding member of The Rainbow Project, and she has played an important role in creating awareness on issues of sexuality, sexual orientation and the human rights of gay and lesbian people in Namibia.

Suzanne LaFont, PhD is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at City University of New York, Kingsborough Community College. She holds a doctorate from Yale University (USA). Her book publications include Constructing Sexualities: Readings in Sexuality, Gender, and Culture (Prentice Hall 2002); Women in Transition: Voices from Lithuania (SUNY Press 1998); and The Emergence of an Afro-Caribbean Legal Tradition in Jamaica (Winfield Press 1996). She has also published numerous articles in scholarly books and journals. Her research interests are the interrelatedness of sexualities, gender, power and human rights. You may contact her at slafont@kbcc.cuny.edu.

Debie LeBeau, PhD is a Senior Research Affiliate with the Gender Training and Research Programme (GTRP), University of Namibia. She is currently conducting research in the Bahamas on gender inequalities and women's social status. She has authored or co-authored 11 books and 12 chapters in books which have been published in Africa, Europe and the United States on a variety of social development issues including health, gender, human rights and HIV/AIDS in Namibia. Her publications include From Corridors of Mobility to Corridors of Hope: Mapping the Link between Mobility and HIV Vulnerability in Namibia (IPPR and IOM, in press); Beyond Inequalities 2005: Women in Namibia. 2nd edition (lipinge and LeBeau, SARDC 2005); Dealing with Disorder: Traditional and Western Medicine in Katutura, Namibia (Rüdiger Köppe Verlag Koln 2003); and Challenges for Anthropology in the 'African Renaissance': A Southern African Contribution, D LeBeau and RJ Gordon, eds (UNAM Press 2002). She has recently been contacted by the University of California Press to write an anthropological account of her 16-year experience of "living anthropology" in Africa. You may contact her at lebeau@mweb.cpm.nao corn.

Robert Lorway, PhD has participated in Eastern Canada's HIV/AIDS movement as an activist-researcher for more than nine years. He went on to complete his doctorate in medical anthropology at the University of Toronto, during which time he focused on the sexual health needs of sexual minorities in Namibia. Some of his findings have been published as an article in the journal, Culture, Health and Sexuality; and he has another article and a book chapter in press. He currently holds postdoctoral fellowships jointly with the McGill University Department of Anthropology and the International Centre for Infectious Diseases, University of Manitoba, to complete his book manuscript, Practicing Sexual Freedom in Namibia, which details the daily lives of "Igbt" Namibians in their struggle for self-determination in the face of anti-homosexual nationalist rhetoric and HIV-vulnerability. Recently, he began work on an international public health project with male sex workers living in the Indian State of Karnataka. He can be contacted at rob, lorway@utoronto.ca.

Julia Pauli, PhD is a Senior Lecturer of Anthropology at the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Cologne, Germany. She is currently heading a research group on demographic, social and economic transformations in Northwest Namibia which is part of the multidisciplinary research project, Arid Climate Adaptation and Cultural Innovation in Africa (ACACIA). She has done extensive fieldwork in rural Mexico (two years) and rural Namibia (22 months) and has published her work in French, Spanish, English and German in different scientific journals and books. Her research interests focus on the connections between social, demographic and economic processes, paying special attention to gender and kinship. You may contact her at julia.pauli@uni-koeln.de.

Hetty Rose-Junius, PhD in Social Sciences, is a social worker in private practice and a researcher. She is a facilitator for a South African-based company, Free-To-Grow, and facilitates life skills programmes throughout the country. Her publications include Child Sexual Abuse and HIV: Study of Links in South Africa and Namibia, 2003 (co-authors R Jewkes, L Penn-Kekana and C Malala); A Sub Study of the WHO Multi-Country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence, 2004 (co-author E January); and An Investigation into the Functioning of Women and Child Protection Units and Police Stations with regard to the protection of women and children in Namibia, 2006 (co-author E Kuenzer). She regularly lectures at the University of Namibia in the Social Science Faculty.

Monica Ruiz-Casares, PhD is a Richard H Tomlinson Postdoctoral Fellow at the Division of Social and Cultural Psychiatry, McGill University in Montreal. For five years, she has taught courses on women's health, human sexuality, social welfare, and policy analysis and management at Cornell University Her doctoral dissertation studied the social relations and wellbeing of children in Caprivi, Kavango and Omusati regions. She has also written about Namibia for the Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations (2007) and The Encyclopedia of Africa and the Americas (2007). She is committed to research and evaluation that affect programmes and policies, strengthen the efficiency of social services and involve children in decision-making and action. She can be reached at mr225@cornell.edu.

Lucy Y Steinitz, PhD has lived in Namibia since 1997. She works for Family Health International as their Senior Regional Technical Officer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Lucy also works as a field consultant for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and has authored numerous articles, books and monographs on HIV-related issues. Previously, she co-founded Catholic AIDS Action (www.caa.org.na) and the Church Alliance for Orphans (www.cafo-namibia.org) She is passionate about scaling up the response to AIDS, especially by and for women and children who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Her e-mail addresses are lucy@steinitz.org and lucy@fhi.org.na.

Philippe Talavera, PhD is the director of the Ombetja Yehinga Organisation, a Namibian Welfare Organisation. His book publications include: =Hira llos, the Hyena's Disease (with the children of Kunene) (Gamsberg MacMillan 2001); Challenging the Namibian perception of sexuality - a case study of the Ovahimba and Ovaherero culturo-sexual models in Kunene North in an HIV/AIDS context (Gamsberg MacMillan 2002); and Sang Pensees m'ecrier (with B Talavera, L Blanc, 2002). He has also published various articles and directed plays (including Isolation, 2003, Eros and Thanatos, 2004 and Be excellent, 2005) and videos (including Love can cry, 2002 and The hostel monologues, 2006). You may contact him at talavera@africaonline.com.na.

Sheila J. Wise, PhD is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow funded by the Ford Foundation through the University of Pretoria/Centre for the Study of AIDS. Trained as a socio-cultural anthropologist, she incorporates visual media into her ethnographic approach as a way to expose and educate mainstream populations to her research. Her visual productions include: Getting Closer to the Experience, an educational video that delves into the experiences of those living with HIV and how treatment affects their lives; and A Different Kind of Black Man, a short documentary that gives voice to successful black gay men on issues related to sexuality, masculinity and their role within the black community She has also published articles in both scholarly journals and mainstream publications. Her research interests focus on the intersection of race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality. You may contact her at sheila.wise@yahpp.cprn.

Sayumi Yamakawa is currently a PhD student in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Her research, which is based on fieldwork conducted in north-central Namibia between 2003 and 2005, explores the social meaning of youth and marriage among Oshiwambo speaking people. In 2002, she submitted a thesis entitled, Adolescent Sexuality in Namibia: An analysis of sexual knowledge, attitudes and practices among secondary school learners in Katutura, and obtained an MA in Sociology from the University of Namibia. Her contact address is sayurni.yamakawa@manch.