University of Namibia students are participating in a range of activities to create awareness on the need to stamp out gender-based violence after research showed that the problem - which has become an acknowledged social challenge in the country - exists at their institution.
Lucy Edwards, one of two UNAM lecturers who led the research, said that gender-based violence had lately been rearing its ugly head in various forms at the University and that both male and female students were taking a stand against it.
Edwards said recent research had shown that the biggest problem was with taxi drivers who allegedly grope and pull female students inappropriately, trying to force them into their taxis.
She quoted some students as saying the harassment at the taxi rank happened under the noses of security guards employed by the university who allegedly told the students that they were only there to secure the university's assets, not the students' personal security.
"There is very physical coercion by some taxi drivers," said Edwards, who teaches Sociology, adding that there were also reports of some male and female students cohabiting in hostel rooms as live-in lovers in violation of university regulations.
"The female students in these arrangements are expected to cook and clean for the men and there are levels of gender-based violence among students in the hostels.
There is a high level of tolerance of that violence within those hostels. A male student can beat up his co-habiting partner and other students would just walk past because they see that as a domestic affair.
"The problem of co-habiting is such that some male students have moved into female hostels and other female students feel insecure when they wake up and find men wandering about or in their toilets."
These claims have surfaced at the same time as Namibia walked away with three awards at the second annual Gender Justice and Local Government Summit in Johannesburg. The Summit celebrates local-level initiatives to combat gender-based violence.
The research that shed light on allegations of gender-based violence at UNAM is part of a broader project looking at sexual and reproductive rights among students on campus.
Gender-based violence is a big social problem in Namibia and Edwards said what was happening at UNAM was reflective of certain attitudes within society.
"We shouldn't be ashamed to deal with it. This is a social problem and President Hifikepunye Pohamba has asked all people in society and all institutions to take up the issue. We need to educate people and are planning to hold a workshop with the taxi drivers and work with men."
Within the wider Namibian society domestic violence, rape and other forms of GBV have been reported with monotonous regularity. The police estimate that more than 1500 cases of rape or attempted rape were reported in 2009 alone, while 11 900 cases of GBV were reported during the same year. A recent demographic health survey showed that 41per cent of men and 32per cent of women felt that it was absolutely fine for men to beat their wives or girlfriends.
The Government of Namibia has shown its concern over gender-based violence through the enactment of various laws and policies related to the occurrence. These include the Namibian Constitution; the Combating of Domestic Violence Act; the Combating of Rape Act; the Married Person's Equality Act; the Maintenance Act; the National Database on Gender Based Violence; and the National Advisory Committee on Gender Based Violence.
Namibia has also ratified international and national instruments that include the Beijing Platform for Action, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and the Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children. However, the problem of GBV still persists and is seen as acceptable by many, which may suggest a new plan of action is needed.
The research conducted by Edwards and her colleague is collaboration between five universities in Southern Africa and the African Gender Institute. UNAM has held panel discussions, drama presentations and organised a march against GBV on Women's Day to raise awareness.
"We don't have to wait for someone to be murdered to take action. We must consistently act against GBV at all levels: at home, school, places of work and so on," said Edwards.
During orientation at the start of this academic year, UNAM students ran a campaign: "Thumbs down for gender-based violence".
Some students who took part said it was an interesting and innovative way of raising awareness. Let's hope their leaders are paying attention.