By: Uakutura Kambaekua
Renowned broadcaster and media personality-turned-gender activist Pombili Shilongo has called on individuals and communities to speak out on gender-based violence, noting that cultural barriers are also forms of abuse that deprive the nation of moving forward.
Shilongo started the ‘Ensuring Life-Saving GBV Assistance to Women and Girls’ project two years ago in partnership with the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA) and the United Nations Population Fund in Namibia (UNFPA). The latest one is titled ‘Leaving No One Behind’, targeting age groups 13 to 60 years.
The project kicked off at the beginning of July and will continue until November.
Shilongo told The Villager that the project kicked off for the first time in the Kunene region with the aim of engaging various communities and schools as opposed to what they have done in the past, where they targeted 20 learners from each school, including pregnant women.
“The idea was for us to go back into the communities where we can reach more schools as opposed to what we have done in the past, which is targeting 20 learners in each school. We added visiting pregnant and lactating women in this equation,” added Shilongo.
“The last time, we had only targeted women, but boys also play a very important role, and so we are leaving nobody behind,” she said.
In the Kunene region, the project engaged pregnant women at maternity homes and learners at Alpha Primary School on the outskirts of Opuwo over the weekend.
Moreover, Shilongo stated that amongst the GBV cases topping the Kunene region through their engagements, sexual abuse and harassment, including child labour, top the chart.
“Sexual abuse/harassment dominates, and labour crime rate amongst youth in Opuwo is high,” said Shilongo.
Shilongo stated that the project’s objective is to break cultural narratives and educate people on where they can get assistance. She added that the youth has been utilising their services as they have been visiting clinics to access the information on GBV.
Arranged marriages are still rife in the Kunene region. This narrative also exists in a few other regions where elders have been practising the traditions for years, which, according to them, cannot be described as a form of abuse. Shilongo mentioned that the engagement is not just meant to educate but to act as a communication tool between NAPPA and the communities, especially those faced with GBV.
“Kunene’s narrative is not in other regions, not even in the cities. Here we are talking about parents and grandparents who have been practising their traditions for years. You come here and say that they are depriving a child of school is abuse, selling off my daughter for cows is abuse, you know what you are talking about, but we also have to share the types of forms of abuse when you are in this community” charged Shilongo.
“You won’t get your change in one day. We are also here to learn because it’s a different narrative every time we come,” she added.
“The story in Kunene is different from what we are used to hearing in Windhoek. In as much as we are here to listen, we are also here to take away, and by far, it’s positive. It might not be the best results you want, but the engagement, the need, the desire to listen and hear, that’s what keeps us going,” she said.
The project has engaged school learners from grades 6, 7 and 8.
Shilongo said that NAPPA, UNPFA and the government of Japan are working hard to implement short programmes within the schools they have been visiting.