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17 June 2022
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today concluded its review of the sixth periodic report of Namibia, congratulating the State party on the adoption of its first national action plan on women, peace and security 2019-2024, and asking questions about gender parity in politics and early marriage.
A Committee Expert congratulated Namibia on the adoption of its first national action plan on women, peace and security 2019-2024, which was seen as complementary to the other mechanisms and frameworks for women’s rights.
Another Expert congratulated the State party on ranking twelfth in the world when it came to the representation of women in parliament, but noted that only 23 per cent of cabinet ministers were female. What was being done to increase this figure? How did the State plan to increase the number of women elected in regional elections? Was anything being done to introduce mandatory quotas for all parties, beyond the majority party?
A Committee Expert congratulated the delegation on the child marriage research study, asking whether the State party planned to implement the recommendations? How would it be ensured that girls who had already entered early marriage continued to build on their unique possibilities? Were there plans to ensure a minimum marital age of 18 with no loopholes?
Responding to questions, Doreen Sioka, Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare of Namibia and head of the delegation, said the aim was to achieve 50/50 gender parity in the upcoming 2024 elections. The issue of regional councils was tough; women in rural areas tended to favour men in their votes. Women’s representation in the national council was very low; of the 14 regions, over half had no women’s representation, which was concerning. The delegation was pushing for change in the electoral law and believed quotas would help this problem. However, the process was slow. Advocacy and lobbying for change were key routes being taken to address this issue.
On early marriage, the delegation said that the age of consent and the age of marriage were currently in conflict with each other, which was why a revision of the act was required. Married children needed to be empowered in terms of formal schooling, life skills and sexual reproductive health. The Government aimed to empower girls who were already married, and to come up with measures to educate girls on child marriage, while still respecting their right to culture and tradition.
Ms. Sioka, presenting the report, said Namibia had made great strides in ensuring that all persons were treated equally. However, the country continued to face socio-economic challenges, which included escalating cases of gender-based violence, sexual violence, isolated cases of harmful cultural practices, and gender stereotypes. Namibia had launched a mass media campaign, aimed at creating awareness and effecting behavioural change on gender-based violence among men and women, deployed through mass media and interpersonal communication. The Namibian Government was conducting awareness campaigns targeting traditional and religious leaders on positive gender roles and the elimination of harmful cultural practices.
The delegation of Namibia was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare; the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation; the Ministry of Health and Social Services; the Chief Development Planner for Gender; and the Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Sioka thanked the Chairperson and the members of the Committee and the delegation, stating that she felt very proud, and the advice of the Committee was greatly appreciated.
Gladys Acosta Vargas, Committee Chair, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, which allowed the Committee to better understand the progress made for women in Namibia.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-second session is being held from 13 June to 3 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at https://media.un.org/en/webtv.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3:45 p.m. on Monday, 20 June for an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations to discuss the situation of women in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Mongolia and Bolivia, whose reports will be reviewed next week.
The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Namibia (CEDAW/C/NAM/6)
DOREEN SIOKA, Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare of Namibia and head of the delegation, said Namibia had made great strides in ensuring that all persons were treated equally. However, the country continued to face socio-economic challenges. These included escalating cases of gender-based violence, sexual violence, isolated cases of harmful cultural practices, and gender stereotypes, which had marred Namibia’s efforts to deliver on obligations under the Convention. Through the nationhood and national pride programme, Namibia had launched a mass media campaign aimed at creating awareness and effecting behavioural change on gender-based violence among men and women within the age group of 18 to 55 years. This was deployed through both mass media and interpersonal communication.
To mitigate the impact of the pandemic, Namibia had adopted measures to strengthen support services for survivors of domestic violence, and had developed a response plan for gender-based violence and violence against children. This enabled women and girls to report any cases to the nearest police stations or through helplines, with all survivors given access to counselling and psychosocial treatment. Namibia had effectively operationalised the combatting of trafficking in persons act, and routinely provided annual training on human trafficking to immigration, law enforcement and judicial officials across the country, especially in border areas.
Ms. Sioka said that Namibia had a strong legal framework geared towards the fight against gender-based violence, including the combatting of rape act, the labour act, and the combatting of domestic violence act, which were currently before Parliament for final deliberations. Namibia had developed a national action plan on gender-based violence, which aimed to target the root causes identified during a baseline study, and provide a well-coordinated approach to prevention, response monitoring and evaluation. Furthermore, Namibia had established special courts for gender-based violence offences countrywide and created a gender-based violence prevention programme in school curricula, among other initiatives. The Namibian Government was conducting awareness campaigns targeting traditional and religious leaders on positive gender roles and the elimination of harmful cultural practices.
Despite challenges, Namibia had made significant improvement in the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment. As of 2021, over 44 per cent of seats in the National Assembly were held by women. Namibia had also received the 2017 “gender is my agenda” campaign award, as recognition of promoting the representation of women in key decision-making positions. The Government had implemented a programme on women in politics and decision-making, holding annual workshops since 2014 to support the performance of women parliamentarians in the law-making process.
Ms. Sioka said the Namibian Government continued to pursue macroeconomic stability, with many programmes in existence to support women, including credit facilities for women cooperatives, capacity building activities on agro-business, and technology for women in agriculture and vulnerable farming households. The Development Bank of Namibia provided loans for small and medium enterprises which benefitted women, and other grants were provided to women entrepreneurs.
Namibia continued to implement training on life saving skills and integrated management of new-born and childhood illnesses. Outreach services were regularly conducted in rural areas on the accessibility of contraception, information on family planning, and sexual and reproductive health. The Namibia safe schools framework had been developed to promote the health, safety, and wellbeing of learners in Namibia, providing teachers with practical tools for promoting safe and supportive school communities. A policy was in place, which allowed pregnant learners to remain in school until four weeks before their due date, encouraging learners to keep up with education, and allowing learner mothers to return to school.
Ms. Sioka said that despite the challenges faced because of the pandemic, the Namibian Government aimed to secure women’s rights and prevent discrimination against women and girls. Namibia was fully committed to the promotion, protection, and realisation of the human rights of all women and girls, and to the implementation of the Convention.
A Committee Expert noted that there was a delay in important legislation which would enhance the rights of women, and a lack of disaggregated data. Would a timetable be established for all the bills which were still in conveyance? Would an all-encompassing definition of discrimination be adopted? On access to justice, why were people so reticent to lodge claims in court? What resources did women have when they were victims of discrimination or violence? What measures were taken to inform women about their rights? Had the Convention been translated into local languages.
The delegation said Namibia did not have an act which solely described discrimination, however, two articles (10 and 8) of the Constitution covered for all forms of discrimination. The delegation took note of cultural practices which might be discriminatory to women and the girl child. Outreach activities were carried out to sensitise traditional leaders on the issue of gender stereotyping and discrimination. Regarding the outstanding bills before Parliament, a timeframe could not be provided. This was the last step, and they were awaiting further direction from Parliament. The State party was aware of the importance of these bills.
The Office of the Ombudsman had a national human rights action plan, which allowed women across all regions to file complaints on any forms of discrimination. There was no distinction affecting rural women or lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender and intersex women. Regarding efforts to raise awareness on the Convention, the delegation said compendiums were in place which were translated into local languages and disseminated throughout all regions.
A Committee Expert noted that article 10 of the Constitution did not cover all forms of discrimination. Did the country’s national legislation address direct and indirect discrimination?
In response, the delegation said the Constitution did not make a reference to direct and indirect discrimination. Article 10 applied to both types of discrimination. Other grounds of discrimination could still be raised when filing a complaint in court.
A Committee Expert congratulated Namibia on the adoption of its first national action plan on women, peace and security 2019-2024, through an inclusive process, seen as complementary to the other mechanisms and frameworks for women’s rights. What mechanisms were in place to foresee the monitoring of the women, peace and security action plan and its implementation? What were the financial resources allocated for this, and how was civil society engagement ensured? What was the significant aspect in the implementation of the gender-based violence plan and the national development plan? What was the status of the response plan for children? Had the national human rights plan been updated? Did the Office of the Ombudsman have a specific mandate? Did it have the authority needed to address the violation of women’s rights? Could the Committee shed light on the recruitment process?
The delegation said that the national gender policy operated under clusters, one of which shared their annual plans to ensure these were aligned with the plan of action on women, peace and security. This was the mechanism to ensure that the plans were implemented. A review had been conducted on the national gender policy, and the final consultation on the plan of action was underway, with the aim to be approved later in the year. A costing had been undertaken on the plan of action for gender-based violence to determine the funds required. Namibia would then indicate to civil society organizations where the gaps existed and where funds could be supplied to address these gaps. The Government had provided emergency funds to assist people throughout the pandemic. The challenge was that there was no disaggregated data available by sex. The State was working on this to ensure that women benefited from all the support provided by the Government.
DOREEN SIOKA, Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare of Namibia and head of the delegation, said that it had been difficult to obtain detailed data during the pandemic as it had been a very intense time. The Government had established six clusters during this time to address all areas impacted by COVID-19.
The delegation said a national human rights tracking database was being conducted with members of the Ombudsman’s office and civil society. This would ensure that Namibia was carrying out its obligations under the various Conventions. The Ombudsman was an independent person and a new Ombudsman had been recruited following the retirement of the previous one.
In response to a question on whether the recruitment process for the Ombudsman was
transparent and open, the delegation said that the recruitment of the Ombudsman was open and public, and members of the public were called to apply. Interviews were carried out publicly, both online and over the radio. Everything was conducted in a transparent manner.
A Committee Expert commended the State party on introducing mechanisms and advocacy programmes to address gender-based discrimination in the workplace. Would the affirmative action act ensure access to employment opportunities in accessible formats? Were the measures offering support for victims, including hotlines, temporary? Would Namibia introduce temporary special measures to increase accessibly to educational environments? Would Namibia consider measures to disseminate information and clinical resource material for quality sexual and reproductive health care, while affirming the sexual and reproductive rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender plus women? What had been the outcome of measures focused on increasing the number of vulnerable women in public and political life? Would the State party consider enacting a plan to eliminate women’s poverty?
The delegation said that during the pandemic, it came to light that information was not reaching the public easily. A mechanism had been developed, providing instructions to service providers, such as those who were delivering food during the pandemic, on how to identify cases of gender-based violence, and refer them to the authorities. These support systems were still in place following the pandemic. The Government had merged ministries to cover gender equality, social welfare, poverty eradication and marginalised programmes, under one, all-encompassing ministry. Special programmes had been implemented for each category, including a food bank to eliminate food poverty. The Government was focused on mainstreaming gender in all these programmes. The delegation said that the law in Namibia required all employers to submit a plan which focused on the employment and recruitment of disadvantaged groups. This was then scored and evaluated on a scorecard system.
In response to a question on whether the employment scorecard was effective, the delegation said that outreach activities were conducted with all women in mind; there was no distinction between women, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer women.
A Committee Expert spoke about protests which had been organised following the murder of a 22-year-old woman, which was a culmination of hundreds of domestic violence cases per day. In response, the Government had agreed to several changes, including the establishment of a sexual offenders’ registry, among others. Could an update be provided on the implementation of the promised undertakings? What was the status of outstanding legislation, including the rape amendment bill?
The Expert suggested that a campaign be developed targeting gender stereotypes and redefining masculinity and femineity, which would then be tailored for various groups to ensure maximum impact. Did Namibia plan to develop a strategy to transform the mindset of the gatekeepers of cultural practices, including for practices such as child marriage? The Expert suggested that the Government review its outlook to recognise the intersectoral nature of discrimination.
The delegation said the campaign on redefining masculinity and femineity was a welcome suggestion. A programme had been developed on male engagement, and was being conducted with civil society, which focused on eliminating harmful gender norms. The delegation had found that this programme was working, and it had also been rolled out in workplaces, including within their own Ministry. A strategy had been developed, which involved working with traditional leaders in different regions to eliminate harmful cultural practices throughout the country. A study had been conducted on child marriage and a subsequent action plan had been developed to tackle this issue.
Bills on combatting rape and domestic violence were before parliament. Regarding the intersectoral nature of discrimination, the delegation noted the Committee’s suggestion, stating that all claims of discrimination were addressed in line with the Constitution.
In response to a question about the undertakings following the murder of the 22-year-old woman and whether the changes promised had been implemented, the delegation said the story had shocked the country. In response to this incident and the protests, several laws were before parliament and a number of operations had been implemented by the defence forces. Gender-based violence protection units had been strengthened throughout the country following the incident. If a survivor presented before one of these centres, they could have their case registered, receive medical services, and be booked into a facility or shelter if necessary. Some courts had also introduced dedicated courts to handle cases of gender-based violence. Cases of gender-based violence were investigated by prosecutors to ensure maximum efficiency. Discussions were currently underway regarding the sexual offenders’ registry.
A Committee Expert congratulated the members of the delegation on their clear political will. Clear efforts had been made regarding trafficking. Why was the State party refraining from answering questions around this topic? Were there any developments concerning the adoption of the anti-trafficking act? Could information be provided around its main goals and budgetary requirements? Could information about the training of social workers in centres be provided? Did the State envisage conducting a study on the patterns of trafficking to obtain statistical data on the crime? How did the State party plan to stop prostitution and support women in reintegrating into society?
The plan on trafficking would be launched in coordination with World Trafficking Day in July, this year. A study had been conducted prior to the development of the act. A follow-up study after the implementation of the act would be helpful in terms of gaining statistical data. The delegation said online recruitment was an issue and the Government had launched a campaign to address this, which involved a song in order to appeal to young people. The best female artist in the country had launched the song, which outlined how trafficking could occur and its dangers. Shelters in seven regions which had been upgraded. Three were specifically designated for victims of trafficking. These shelters were kept secure to ensure the safety of the survivors.
In response to a request for more information about the issue of coordination within the national coordination body and about measures to prevent prostitution, the delegation said that countries bordering with Namibia provided assistance when it came to preventing trafficking and prostitution. A coordinating body was in place to deal with trafficking issues. Since this body had started operating, coordination had improved. As this function was new, capacity building was still required, as well as awareness raising throughout the community.
A Committee Expert congratulated the State party on ranking twelfth in the world when it came to the representation of women in parliament. The Expert noted that only 23 per cent of cabinet ministers were female. What was being done to increase this figure? Were the workshops which had been implemented making a difference? How did the State plan to increase the number of women elected in regional elections? How would greater voter turnout be encouraged? Could an update on the integrated review scorecard be provided? Was anything being done to introduce mandatory quotas for all parties, beyond the majority party? What measures were being taken to improve the number of women in the judiciary? Would measures be introduced to increase women in international leadership roles?
Another Committee Expert noted that the conventions on statelessness and stateless persons had not been ratified; did Namibia intend to ratify these and what were the timelines for this? Did the State party intend to amend its Constitution to provide protection for children whose place of birth was unknown, or whose parents were refugees? Was a father’s signature necessary for children to receive a birth certificate? What steps were being taken to ensure every child born in Namibia received a birth certificate? What was the timeline for the enactment of the marriage bill, and how did the bill afford protection to marriage? How did Namibia deal with the issue of surrogacy and citizenship?
The delegation said answers to statelessness, births, and children would be provided in writing, along with data.
DOREEN SIOKA, Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare of Namibia and head of the delegation, said the aim was to achieve 50/50 gender parity in the upcoming 2024 elections. The issue of regional councils was tough; women in rural areas tended to favour men in their votes. Namibia was fighting to achieve equal representation of women in public and political life. The delegation said this was a big challenge for the country, but a necessary one. Women’s representation in the national council was very low; of the 14 regions, over half had no women’s representation, which was concerning. The political leadership in the country was highly supportive of gender equality, however the statistics told a different story. The Government was pushing for change in the electoral law and believed the quotas would help the problem. However, this process was slow. Advocacy and lobbying for change were a key route being taken to address this issue.
In response to a question on how many women from the San community were represented in parliament, the delegation said that there was only one woman from that group in the national council. It was important to fight for this marginalised group to be brought into the mainstream.
A Committee Expert commended Namibia on the education law, free education, the campaign on early pregnancies, and the safe schools network, among other things. What measures were in place to strengthen the implementation of the policy for students who became pregnant, which was exemplar. Was the school considered a safe place to discuss sex? What should be done differently? Would temporary special measures be used to ensure that girls studied engineering? What were the timelines? How would budgetary allocation be made to address equitable access to education? How could access to education be ensured for girls with disabilities?
The delegation said Namibia had been trying hard to keep girls in school, while also ensuring that boys were not left behind. A dignity project had been established, which allowed girls’ sanitary pads to be tax-free. Teachers’ training in schools was also strengthened, particularly in life skills. A study had been conducted to ascertain what was causing students to fall pregnant. A programme had been developed to sensitise parents on health issues. The Ministry had engaged leaders around health issues to gain their support, and subsequently keep girls in schools. A monitoring plan was in place, whereby a task force informed the Ministry of the impact of the policy each semester.
There were issues with male teachers who had impregnated girls at school. To combat this, disciplinary measures had been put in place, whereby teachers who were having an inappropriate relationship with a student would lose their job. The policy for pregnant students was very important; in the previous government, pregnant students were not given the opportunity to go to school. It was important that the boys were not left out and this was something the Government needed to address.
A Committee Expert asked the delegation to look at the Committee’s special measures for girls. The Committee was looking for a balance, so that no child was left behind, and Namibia was well on course.
One Committee Expert noted an increase in the wage gap, asking what measures would be taken to decrease the wage gap? What policies were being developed to ensure that more women could move from the informal to the formal economy? What training plans were in place? The high level of unemployment among women was concerning. Women were underrepresented at the highest levels of employment; what would be done to target this?
The delegation said Namibia had ratified the convention on domestic workers; it had implemented a wage bill which had increased the minimum wage twice since 2013. Stakeholders were being engaged to design a roadmap from the informal to the formal sector. A workshop would be conducted which invited stakeholders to review their policies, such as social security benefits. An integrated employment system was in place where job seekers could submit their curriculum vitae and where vacancies would be registered with the employment bureau. Currently the scorecard was still in its draft form and would be implemented later in the year.
All relevant employers needed to submit an affirmative action plan, which needed to indicate the training given to women to elevate them from a “native woman” job. Relevant employers would need to indicate how many women had been trained and how many had been promoted throughout the year. The current labour act was under review, with a section to be added, addressing sexual harassment at the workplace. A study had also been conducted on violence at the workplace, which would be helpful in the fight against gender-based violence.
A Committee Expert said Namibia had made significant strides in combatting HIV/AIDS. However, some women with HIV had faced forced sterilisation. What was being done to ensure this did not happen again and to provide protection for victims? What was being done to ensure girls and teenagers had better food? What was being done to ensure that young women in rural areas were receiving information and contraception? What would be done to ensure the healthcare situation was prepared to aid women who wished to have access to abortion services?
The delegation said that abortion in Namibia could only be performed under strict medical supervision, and only in instances of rape, incest or when the life of the mother was in danger. Women undergoing sterilisation were fully informed of the pros and cons of the procedure, and consent needed to be provided by the woman before this could be performed. The rest of the answers would be provided in writing.
A Committee Expert said Namibia was reputed to have one of the most comprehensive social protection plans in Africa. Did the development plan specify a gender-specific component, with the needs of women as a priority? What social security benefits were available to women in the informal economy? Namibia was transitioning into a carbon neutral economy. What ways would the green economy initiative impact the economic empowerment of women? Was there a gender-specific component to this plan? What measures were in place to increase women’s access to public procurement spending? What services were in place to provide information on agricultural crops which were sustainable and nutritious? Women in Namibia had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, especially those in rural areas. What were the social benefits for women in the informal economy?
DOREEN SIOKA, Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare of Namibia and head of the delegation, said that in 2023, every person with a disability would receive funds from the Government. Namibia was trying to mainstream gender into the economy to ensure gender equality was realised in all sectors. Access to the market remained an issue; how did women get their projects to the market? Before COVID, women had participated in trade fairs throughout the region. However, movement had been limited due to the pandemic. The Government was trying to ensure that all women trained through Government programmes were linked to income-generating support to expand their products.
Social security services had established policies to assist those operating in the informal economy. There were certain sectors within the labour market which did not give pensions to their employees; a commission had been established to look at establishing a national pension fund. This would also apply to those who were not in the formal sector. The report had been finalised and input would be sought from parliament. The Bank of Namibia and Agribank provided loans to women with low interest rates.
A Committee Expert said that the social and economic needs of women did not seem essential to Namibia. There was a need to put women at the centre of the gender-mainstreaming programmes in the country. The Expert said women were central to the green economy and needed to be involved in this process.
Another Committee Expert asked about the implementation of the Committee’s previous recommendation on the rights of rural women. There was a lack of information on the impact of climate change on these women. Could the delegation inform on the participation of rural women in climate change risk reduction? Indigenous groups accounted for 8 per cent of the population; could they have access to their traditional land and ensure basic social services? What was the impact of the construction of a dam on indigenous groups? What were future programmes envisaged to improve detention facilities, especially for women?
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chair, noted that there was a wide ranging, innovative range of programmes on climate change in Namibia and the Committee looked forward to receiving information on them.
A Committee Expert congratulated Namibia on the child marriage research study, asking whether the State party planned to implement its recommendations? Would Namibia be interested in enhancing girls access to education, vocational skills and life skills? This was in reference to young girls who were married or had children. The Expert proposed that this be considered. How would it be ensured that girls who had already entered into early marriage continued to build on their unique possibilities? Were there plans to ensure a minimum marital age of 18 with no loopholes? Could updates be provided on the status of outstanding legislation and the plans for their adoption?
The delegation said there was currently a gap regarding the age of consent. The age of consent and the age of marriage were currently in conflict with each other, which was why a revision of the act was required. The Constitution allowed customary law to exist, provided it did not conflict with the Constitution; these were anomalies which needed to be addressed. Married children needed to be empowered in terms of formal schooling, life skills and sexual reproductive health. Research needed to be conducted into the area of traditional initiation, to inform evidence-based decision making and programming. The government aimed to empower girls who were already married and to come up with measures to educate the girls on child marriage, while still respecting their right to culture and tradition.
A Committee Expert asked about the gap between the age of consent and the age of marriage, stating this was something which needed to be reviewed as they were two different things. Tying them together may not have the desired outcome.
Another Committee Expert asked if a mechanism was in place, to follow up on recommendations from the Committee?
The delegation said the national tracking database had been approved by the Cabinet, and with that, recommendations would be attended to. The observation by the Committee Expert on the age of consent and the age of marriage was valid, but the age of consent was challenging. A child of 16 could give consent to sex but could not marry, which made it an issue. A plan of action had been drawn up on the Committee’s recommendations, and the situation on the ground was being assessed to determine how to deal with each recommendation.
DOREEN SIOKA, Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare of Namibia and head of the delegation, thanked the Chairperson and the members of the Committee and the delegation, stating that she felt very proud, and the advice of the Committee was greatly appreciated. Namibia needed to continue with this spirit, and not be left behind.
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chair, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, which allowed the Committee to better understand the progress made for women in Namibia. Ms. Acosta Vargas urged the delegation to adopt all the Committee’s recommendations to allow for a broader implementation of the Convention and benefit all women and girls within Namibia.
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