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Namibia: “Unacceptable inequalities persist 20 years after independence” – UN poverty expert

WINDHOEK (8 October 2012) – “More than two decades after independence, Namibian society is still beset by unacceptable levels of inequality along the lines of gender, race, region, ethnicity and class,” today warned the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, at the end of her first fact-finding mission* to Namibia.

“While I recognize the damaging legacy of colonialism, progress has not been forthcoming at the necessary pace,” Ms. Sepúlveda said, recalling that Namibia has enjoyed political stability and steady economic growth since independence, is rich in natural resources and has a GDP that classifies it as a middle-income country.

“The fact that the country remains one of the most unequal in the world is a clear sign that the benefits of economic growth have not reached the poor,” the independent expert on extreme poverty stressed.

The Special Rapporteur noted that Namibia’s robust legal framework and sound developmental policies and programmes have had, nonetheless, very limited success in improving the situation of the poorest Namibians. “Social policies in areas ranging from health and education to employment and land reform are undermined by severe implementation gaps,” she noted.

In her view, inefficiency, limited institutional capacity, skills shortages, a slow decentralization process and poor monitoring have prevented good policies from producing the intended outcomes, despite substantial budgetary investment.

“In Namibia, poverty wears a woman’s face,” Ms. Sepúlveda stressed, noting that women continue to be economically marginalized, have unequal access to land and productive resources, and are disproportionately affected by unemployment and HIV/AIDS. She also expert expressed particular concern at alarming rates of maternal mortality and the widespread prevalence of gender-based violence.

“The lack of opportunity for women to enjoy independent livelihoods combines with limited access to services such as education, health and justice to make women more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality,” she said. “These in turn perpetuate women’s social exclusion and poverty in a vicious cycle.” Ms. Sepúlveda underscored that she was leaving Namibia “with a profound sense of admiration of the resilience and courage of Namibian women.”

The Special Rapporteur called for systematic structural changes to address the levels of socio-economic inequality in the country, and more comprehensive social protection programmes and strong investment in expanding access to public services. “Poor Namibians cannot wait any longer for the benefits of economic growth to ‘trickle down’. The Government must address the critical needs of the poorest and most marginalized as a matter of priority,” she said.

The independent expert on extreme poverty visited the Omaheke, Kavango, Khomas, and Karas regions, where she met with Government officials, civil society organizations and communities living in poverty.

In her preliminary findings at the conclusion of her mission, Ms. Sepúlveda provided specific recommendations in the areas of health, education, employment, social protection, access to land, housing and gender equality. The Special Rapporteur will present a full report on Namibia to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2013.

(*) For the full end-of-mission press statement by Ms. Sepúlveda, please visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12636&LangID=E

ENDS

Magdalena Sepúlveda was appointed the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in May 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. She is independent from any government or organization. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Namibia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/NAIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact:
In Windhoek: Welda Mouton, UNIC Windhoek, (+264 61 2046346 / +264 81 243 66 66 / welda.mouton@unic.org, or Lidia Rabinovich (+41 79 201 0122 / lrabinovich@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Madoka Saji (+41 22 917 9107 / msaji@ohchr.org) or write to srextremepoverty@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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