Today a two-day national conference on “Prevention of harmful cultural practices to women in the Zambezi Region” began in Katima Mulilo. The conference is organised by the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC), with funding from the British High Commission in Namibia. The project aims at strengthening human rights work and gender equality in Namibia.
The objectives of the National Dialogue are:
To increase visibility, education and awareness of the violation of girls’ and women’s human rights through harmful cultural practices in Zambezi Region,
To share and learn from work by civil society organisations in Namibia and our neighbouring countries on the prevention of harmful cultural practices that expose women, young women and girls to all forms of violence as well as HIV and Aids,
To strengthen leadership and accountability at the regional and national level for the protection of girls’ and women’s human rights through the prevention of harmful cultural practices.
Overall, the national dialogue shall establish state accountability to girls and women regarding their urgent protection from harmful cultural practices that subject them to all forms of violence and high risk of HIV infection. The activities, part of ongoing work of the WLC in the Zambezi Region, seeks to put the urgent need to prevent harmful cultural practices in Zambezi Region on the national agenda and challenge the ongoing denial of the link between cultural practices that violate the dignity, well-being and rights of girls and women and the extremely high prevalence rate of HIV among women tested in the region.
Certain cultural practices in the Zambesi Region revolve around making girls’ and women’s bodies sexually pleasurable and available to men including through elongation of the labia minora starting long before puberty and sexual readiness testing by male relatives, all of which expose girls and women to pain, humiliation, violence as well as HIV and Aids. Violent initiation practices prepare them for subservience as wives, daughters in law and mothers: to accept forced marriage, polygamy, dowries, divorce that leaves them with nothing, and “widow cleansing” when their partner dies.
The WLC is the only civil society organisation working on this issue in Namibia. The conference is embedded into the wider work of the WLC, which began working in the Zambezi region 8 years ago and which will be in a strong position to take forward the outcome of the conference through other partners. The conference will make recommendations for actions by the various stakeholders and will establish mechanisms for accountability. The project aims at delivering a Katima Mulilo Declaration or a similar outcome. The WLC will include the outcomes and impact of this conference in the NGOs shadow report to the UN Human Rights mechanisms.