During the opening ceremony, the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila stated that Namibia has made good progress in creating laws that establish equal rights for both women and men, and in ratifying relevant regional and international treaties dealing with the elimination of descrimination against women. Even though great strides have been made in Namibia to narrow the gender gap on various fronts, it does not mean that these changes have been hollistically followed. Women still struggle to constitute top management positions, whereas only 42% of women filling up the top management positions are in the public sector, while in the private sector this is only at 40%. The prime minister also noted that measures are needed to challenge persistent occupational segregation and gender pay gaps in order to create decent paying jobs.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2015 which was measured by the World Economic Forum, Namibia ranks in 16th position out of 145 countries because over the past ten years, it has successfully managed to fully close the gap on the health and survival indicator and on the educational attainment indicator.
In terms of the economic participation and opportunity indicator, Namibia is lagging in 27th position as a result of its 57th low rank in relation to wage inequality between men and women. The country is also ranked in 33rd position in the political empowerment indicator as a result of its 10th position with regard to representation of women in parliament. “To enhance socio- economic empowerment and reduce household poverty, we need to promote partnership between women and men, between employees and employers, between previously disadvantaged and previously advantaged persons,” Kuugongelwa-Amadhila advised.
In her presentation on health, Hon. Juliet Kavetuna, Deputy Minister of Health & Social Services, outlined that in the past 25 years, developing countries including Namibia made some progress in improving healthcare for women, with maternal deaths dropping by 45%. She said that people do not take mental illness seriously, but it is on the rise these days and it affects both women and men differently. Hon. Kavetuna urged women to take charge of their situation and become more understanding in how their minds and bodies are predisposed to certain mental health issues, so that they can better understand how to keep themselves healthy.
Ms. Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, the Programme Coordinator of Namibia’s Women Health Network Organisation (NWHN) embraced Hon. Kavetuna’s speech, saying that mental illnesses are caused by physical, social and environmental as well as psychological factors. Women face humiliation, stigma and discrimination when they seek help, and this influences their fear of a HIV/AIDS test, or in seeking information on postpartum depression. Ms. Gatsi- Mallet added that sexual violence such as rape, early marriage, adolescent pregnancy, and repeated pregnancies at short intervals also affect women, which leads them to experience anxiety attacks.
Ms. Yolande Engelbrecht, a paralegal of the Legal Assistance Centre, stressed that inequality is high in Namibia and that is why some women are being violated by men. She added that in order to have an equal society, we have to evaluate and look at constructive ways that we can achieve it. Dr. Lucy Edwards- Jauch, the Senior Sociology Lecturer at the University of Namibia, added that even though Namibia is rated as one of the most peaceful countries in the world, it does not mean that it is completely safe.
In regards to representation of women in the media, Ms. Emily Bown, the Head of the Department of Communications at the Namibian University of Science & Technology (NUST), indicated that women in media outlets must be considered for managerial positions. She added that media content should be issue-based, which allows for a balance in male and female sources. Ms. Vida de Voss- Links responded that women should stop being merely watchdogs and support each other. Media should come up with real solutions and answers to influence gender parity in societies.
From the Youth perspective, Ms. Calista Schwartz, the Director of the National Youth Council, advised young Namibian women to take up opportunities and do something useful with their lives by being proactive.
The conference ended on a strong note, with The Hon. Lucia Witbooi bringing everyone together from the podium to vocalise their pledges for parity together. The moderator Nangula Shejavali ended the evening with a call to action, and thanked the Hanns Seidel Foundation and its partners the Namibia Institute for Democracy, Sister Namibia and House of Women, for a conference and indeed a discussion that made women more aware that they have a voice in how they are treated in their country, and this needs to change through gender parity.