– Emily Esplen, Women’s Rights Coordinator, One World Action
Yesterday One World Action was lucky to host four women Parliamentarians from Namibia for a frank roundtable exchange on women’s political participation. The women spoke candidly about the challenges they face in a country where women’s political representation is at only 24% – almost as low as the UK which lingers at around 22%. This is in spite of the commitment to reach 50% representation of women in politics by 2015 under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development.
So why hasn’t more progress been made? One of the interesting things about Namibia is that what was once a vibrant women’s movement has since become relatively dormant as civil society organisations that were active in campaigning for women’s rights have followed donor funding fads and shifted their focus to HIV. And many of the women activists who championed women’s rights in the aftermath of Namibia’s liberation struggle have since retired from activism and taken up better paid work. In the absence of a vibrant Namibian women’s movement, it is even harder for women representatives in parliament to have the courage and support to advocate for gender equity in a hostile, male-dominated environment. At the same time, it means that – despite a progressive Namibian constitution safeguarding women’s rights – there is no strong collective movement to hold the government to account for protecting these rights in practice.
Encouraging young women’s activism was seen as key to reviving dormant women’s movements – in the UK as well as Namibia. How to do this prompted a lively discussion – ‘getting trendy’ was one answer, for example by communicating to younger women through social media like Facebook, or even rapping feminist messages!
Whilst the feminist movement in the UK seems to be gaining pace – what can be done here to support feminist movements in other countries?