Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

6. the Oppression of Women in Selected Narratives by Namibian Female Authors

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

6. the Oppression of Women in Selected Narratives by Namibian Female Authors

Article excerpt

Background

Many instances of women suffering and oppression are a result of tradition and culture. They feature prominently in many African narratives and increasing attention is being accorded to the mediation of gender relations in contemporary African literature in general. Namibia, too, is not an isolated case when it comes to gender related issues and concerns.

Namibia's rich history and culture is told from the pre-colonial era, at the arrival of missionaries and traders, during the colonial and liberation struggle days and post-independence (Rhode, 2003). In the pre-colonial days, rituals were conducted during weddings, burials, child births etc. Men went out in fields to hunt and women stayed behind to care for children and prepare meals for their families. Men who hunted more meat were given high respect as they were regarded as 'real' men. Those who struggled received no respect and were often called cowards, and described with words equating them to women (Namupala, 2004).

On the other hand, during the South African Apartheid regime, men suffered both racial as well as sexual insecurities. Working away from their families for long periods exposed men to exploitative and violent relationships. They simply conformed to cultural norms which regarded women as mere property of men, first property of their fathers, then as cattle of their husbands. The colonial administration refused to recognize women leaders and manipulated customary laws to suit their needs (Namupala, 2004). Colonial officials promoted Western patriarchy, which reconfigured power within gender relations. The alliances of colonial administrators and 'traditional' elites contributed to the idea of ancient male traditions within which men were defined as the exclusive holders of authority in the family, the community and the state. Under colonial law, women were classified as minors; they could neither vote nor own land, and they needed their husbands' permission to enter into legal contracts (Becker, 2003).

Furthermore, during the days of Apartheid, men worked as contract labourers in mines and on farms which were far away from their families, thereby leaving their wives and children at their homes in villages. It was the norm that women stayed behind to work in fields, under the authority of male chiefs. From one line of thought, they were kept away from paid jobs as a form of economic marginalization, relegating them to the rural economy only. Men's work was remunerated in cash, gaining much easily appreciated value as opposed to women's daily hardships (Ambunda & de Klerk, 2008).

However, during the liberation struggle, both men and women fought against the colonizer, for their political freedom. Interestingly, the majority of writers wrote about colonial oppression and the women's involvement in the war. Namibian authors such as Linda Shaketange, Libertine Amadhila and Nepeti Nikanor have contributed, through their literary pieces directly to the liberation struggle, looking forward to a future of freedom and independence.

When it gained its independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia made massive changes which were meant for the betterment and consideration of women's issues. The authorization of affirmative action and the prohibition of discrimination based on sex are some of the issues that received attention at the centre of social transformation. Various post-independence writings by Namibian women came to light, bringing forth their long silence and suffering. Their voices advocate for change, the beginning of a feminist era trying to repaint the picture of traditional women portrayal in the eyes of their own societies and those of the entire world (Ambunda & de Klerk, 2008). Namibia has as well ratified the "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women" (CEDAW) in 1992. The convention condemns any form of discrimination against women, and states that measures have to be taken to eradicate:

Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field (Visser & Ruppel-Schlichting, 2008). …

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