In 2013 I was Media Officer for the women’s rights organisation that has my heart, Sister Namibia. One of our followers and contributors brought it to my attention that there was a guy making problematic clips about domestic violence and rape and stuff like that. He had a large following, and countless youth, especially young school-going boys, were sharing the clips like mad.
Myself and a couple of Civil Society activists went on his Facebook page to point out how harmful the messages he was spreading were. We were called a bunch of uptight, interfering bitches who should mind their business. We were told this more by his followers, than by the guy himself. Me? I wanted to write a long, strongly-worded article for the Sister Namibia magazine, demonizing him, but my director told me I need to be fair and give the guy a chance to speak, so I should interview him.
So interview him I did. His responses to my interview basically came down to that he joked about beating and raping the women in his life so that he didn’t do it in real life. And that he didn’t understand why we were making such a big deal about it, he had a large following that found him funny, very many people who didn’t see anything wrong in what he was doing, why should he listen to the very few who had a problem with it?
I was outraged. I wanted the masses to rise up and show him we were more than a few. I put a post up on my Facebook and I realised I had two groups of people on my there: The handful of activists who responded to and shared my posts, and the majority of the people on my list who were not part of Civil Society who were just indifferent to the situation.
There was a third group, a group I can fortunately say was not represented on my list, but a group guy person had been right about: his following. I was angry that so few people cared, and so many didn’t, I deactivated my Facebook account. Because I am an extremist, the end of that year saw me resigning from my job at Sister Namibia because I felt we weren’t really doing much in our fight against all the ills of society.
Gender-Based Violence cases seemed to grow higher every day, each Monday morning one of the biggest headlines in the papers would still be about how many young girls were raped or how many women had lost their lives to their partners, and we still had people thinking it funny when a man made jokes about beating his girlfriend and wife until their eyes were blue and their mouths bleeding red. I felt helpless, I went off to Finland for a month-long holiday, I remember giving a talk in Helsinki where I called myself a “defeated feminist.”
I got back from Finland and the only thing that kept me from volunteering at the SOS Village down the road, was that I had a dislocated shoulder. I realised then that I was drawn to Civil Society work like a moth to light. But I felt like Civil Society work in Namibia would kill me, I would always feel like I wasn’t doing enough. So I packed my bags and moved to Zambia for a year. In Zambia, I ran a guesthouse. I also volunteered for a children’s home, but it wasn’t my job, it was just something I did to get away from my routine.
I would hear about cases of women and/or child abuse in Zambia and I would think, “Okay, these things are everywhere, I can’t run away from them.” But I would also tell myself I was in another country, one where no one knew me as “that lady from Sister Namibia” or “that Peer Counsellor” or anything like that. No one expected me to mobilize people or write angry letters and demand to speak to authorities. I’d probably be turned away for being a “foreigner.” In Zambia, I was just a guesthouse manager. People saw me and they wanted to talk about food and accommodation, and I was perfectly fine with that. That may have been the beginning of the ‘head in the sand’ nature in which I now live my life.
So I spent 2014 in Zambia. In 2015, I had to be back in Namibia for a personal project. I gave all my attention to that project and I tried very hard not to focus on anything else that was going on in the country, of course this was just shy of nearly getting a job with the Society for Family Health. Then one day, quite accidentally, I stumbled upon a Facebook post where I saw that problematic guy from 2013, had completely turned over a new leaf. He had seen the error of his ways and was an ally and active member of Civil Society. He was going around schools talking to pupils about how violence was nothing to joke about.
We had done it. The result hadn’t come when I’d wanted it (instantaneously), but it had come. Patience. That’s what I needed, and I’ve never had any of it. Looking back at how far the women’s rights movement had come, how many decades it had taken just for women to even be allowed to vote, and how far we still have to go, I realised that if two years felt like too long for me to wait for results, perhaps I couldn’t be in the women’s rights movement. The problem with my feminism and ‘activism’ is, it’s not a job, it’s part of who I am, I try very hard to, but I can’t quite switch it off and on at will and when I’m in Namibia, the issues here are my issues, it becomes my job and responsibility to address them, to care about them, but I find I can’t do that without feeling like I am but a teardrop in the ocean.
I’ve been back in Namibia about four months now, after having spent seven months in Nigeria. In Nigeria, at the most serious, I am called a “writer” ( which I refuse to be) or a “storyteller” (which I don’t mind, because I like to tell stories), otherwise, everyone there just knows and accepts me as that girl who likes wine, and Orijin. 🙂
I’ve been back in Nam four months, and I find myself working on a project about harmful cultural projects, I find myself attending meetings on youth unemployment, I find myself at round tables with youth leaders. Four months back in the country and I’m organising conferences, I’m up looking for donors, thinking about what fancy English to use to convince them we are doing work worthy of their money, four months in the country and I’m wondering who I know in what government office because we need government to see they should be partnering with NGOs. Four months back in the country, and I’m tired all over again, because it’s still the same faces and the same voices taking up arms. The handful of people who, unlike me don’t run from the struggle.
An escapist, that’s what I am. And I can’t escape when I am in Namibia because every single issue here is mine.