Traditional leaders should unite against harmful cultural practices

31 Oct 2017 18:50pm
WINDHOEK, 31 OCT (NAMPA) – Namibian traditional leaders have been urged to stand together against harmful cultural practices on women and girls.
Making the call during a media conference here Tuesday, the Chinchimani village traditional leader in the Zambezi Region, Bernard Namita said, traditional leaders have the power and authority to advise communities, particularly men, to desist from harmful cultural practices that violate girls’ and women’s rights.
Focusing on his region, Namita explained that some cultural practices such as coerced initiation into womanhood, ‘sikenge’, which is done once a girl starts menstruation are harmful as they teach them to be subservient to men.
These practices, he explained, allow for child marriage, beatings, scarring of girls and sexual readiness-testing during the initiation which involves a high risk of exposure to HIV/Aids.
“I do not see why traditional leaders are quiet about these harmful cultural practices on young girls and women, while they have their own rights being violated by these cultural practices,” he said.
Namita noted that since the Women’s Rights Programme started in the region in 2005, some community members feel that the initiative is trying to abolish culture, hence a need for action by all traditional leaders and other stakeholders to promote cultural transformation.
Speaking at the same event, regional facilitator for the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC), Benithar Sitali said currently the initiative only has 20 volunteer community facilitators representing five villages in the region.
But due to funding challenges, these facilitators are unable to cover all the villages in the region.
She emphasised that, although it is difficult to address the importance of harmful cultural practice transformation, there has been change in the community regarding some cultural practices.
“Before the initiative, absenteeism at schools was very high as girls were kept in isolation, but now the number has dropped.
“Some incidents such as beatings are being reported to the police,” she said.
According to the 2010 Namibia Statistics Agency Survey on HIV/Aids, the region has by far the highest HIV prevalence rate among women in Namibia, of which 46 per cent of women aged 25 to 49 years tested HIV positive compared to the national average of 20 per cent.
The WLC and participants of the WLC Zambezi for Women’s Rights Programme held the media conference to make a statement on the urgent need for action by all stakeholders to promote cultural transformation in order to protect the rights of girls and women.