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Domestic violence rooted in society’s failure to speak out

The escalating media reports on gender based violence has shocked many Namibians, especially women, who no longer feel safe in their own homes.
A study conducted by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) revealed that two out of every 100 victims of domestic violence are pregnant women.
The report, whose findings will only be made public later this year, shows that pregnant women were kicked or assaulted by the abuser. In another case where a woman had already given birth, the baby was thrown against a wall during an attack on her.
“Gender –based violence is a very serious problem which constitutes one of the foremost human rights problems in Namibia,” says Dianne Hubbard, coordinator of the Gender Research & Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre.
The LAC’s work centers around legal issues and although it offers no protection shelters when approached by the victims, the human rights organisation provides information about the relevant laws and how to access them. In appropriate cases, especially when the victims fear to report domestic cases, the LAC refers them to other groups which offer counseling services.
Currently, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is in the process of establishing more shelters for abused women and children. But according to Hubbard, broad efforts to prevent violence from happening in the first place are needed to make women and children truly safer.
Hubbard says that domestic violence is an enormous problem and is deeply-rooted in concepts of masculinity and femininity, as well as in the failure by Namibian society to condemn violence in all its forms.
“It requires joint effort sby all sectors of Namibian society and consistent promotion of equality between the sexes, starting with children of the youngest ages,” Hubbard suggested.
The ‘Seeking Safety’ report is a study of the application of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act, with a view to asses whether the law is serving its intended purpose effectively in practice.
Similar research on the Act was conducted earlier and a report on the findings was launched in 2007. But according to Hubbard, only few of the recommendations from that report, has so far been adopted by key stakeholders.
She said that there is a need for continuing advocacy for improved responses to gender-based violence.
“It is important to monitor new laws to see if they are working in practice and to lobby for improved application of gender-related laws to see if they are working in practice and to lobby for improved application of gender-related laws, as legislation which looks good on paper can be undermined by ineffective implementation,” Hubbard stresses.
The Seeking Safety study is based on research which included data from court files of 1 122 protection order applications during 2004 to 2006, from 19 of the 31 magistrates’ courts in place at the time of the study, 46 key informant interviews in 19 locations – mainly with magistrates and clerks of court involved in applying the law; group discussions with traditional leaders, police and magistrates; 14 follow-up interviews with clerks of court, social workers and a magistrate; and also an examination of reported and unreported court judgments to see how the Combating of Domestic Violence Act features in criminal cases.

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