Alcohol and substance abuse, early age sexual relations, teenage pregnancy and peer pressure are some of the issues that affect Secondary School learners across Namibia. More than 66% of the Namibian population are aged 30 and below, and if these issues are not addressed, they will continue to affect the younger generation’s academic and social lives.
Starting off the day, the Jan Möhr administration invited Pastor Chris Johnson to bless the girls before they begin with the exams, and he touched on some of the issues which affect students' academic performances and urged the students to stay away from drugs, alcohol and sexual activities. Pastor Johnson’s speech was a great ice breaker for the "Prosperous Paths: Leading in Vocation" outreach, as it motivated the learners’ to think about problems faced by women across Namibia.
Commencing the Prosperous Paths 5000 girls’ outreach, Ms. Anthea Basson tested the girl’s general knowledge about the UN. Through a combined effort, the learners managed to get the answer correct, and Ms. Basson proceeded to help the students identify the agencies that are operational in Namibia before beginning educating and empowering the young women.
When asked about the problems and challenges they face as girls in their daily lives, the young ladies provided verbatim responses such as: we are challenged most directly by economic concerns today, including things like the cost of living, poverty; pressing concerns in our homes, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases (HIV/AIDS), making the right choices for a job and career. The girls also eagerly expressed their concerns about equality, equal opportunity and discrimination.
Ms. Basson's insightful interaction with the girls highlighted the key women-specific issues which gave insight into challenges and constraints regularly faced by Namibian women and girls. The presentation outlined statistics of women in management and leadership positions and addressed the issue of gender-based violence, phenomena in Namibia.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO; 2016) report, about 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Further, it has been found that women who have been abused by their partners are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, twice as likely to experience depression and 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, as compared to women who have not experienced partner violence. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Namibia further states that more than 46,000 teenage girls fell pregnant in 2013, amounts to about 127 every day. Ms. Basson emphasized the importance of reaching the Sustainable Development Goal #5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’, in order to combat these statistics.
As part of the next segment of the program, the learners were challenged to come up with solutions to combat problems women face. The first contribution was from a learner who takes part in Model United Nations Namibia (MUNNAM), who took the initiative with a friend to start a girls' club at the school. She challenged the girls to join ‘Jan Möhr Girls’, a club that aims at empowering girls and promoting a sisterhood whereby the Namibian girl child self-actualizes as an independent woman in order to become self-dependent. She went on to emphasize, that girls should unite and see each other not as competitors for boyfriends, but as sisters who help each other in all areas, from academics to careers. A large cheer erupted from the crowd, as the girls agreed that this would be a good solution to their problems.
The next contributor attested that education is the key to women’s empowerment. She said that if a girl child has education, she can fight to achieve her dreams and perform in leadership positions. In addition, she said that girls should use their God-given talents to help each other and also empower each other. She immediately followed up by adding that the empowered women should go to the rural area where there are people who lack knowledge and motivation and remind them that they can also achieve their dreams. This was in line with the recent UNFPA report that states that the rural areas have the highest rate of pregnancies.
Abstinence was raised as another way of combating teenage pregnancy. Following the statement, a brave teenage mother stood up and told her peers that even teenage mothers can work hard and make a name for themselves. She added that she should not be judged for her mistakes, she has embraced her circumstances and the responsibilities that come with it now. Being a teenage mom "I am adamant in pursuing my education and making a success of it". With the number of adolescent girls estimated at 245 431, the UNFPA Namibia reports that these girls may lack knowledge of or access to conventional methods of preventing pregnancy as they may be afraid to or embarrassed to seek the knowledge.
The audience also directed the discussion on girls and women pleasing their male partners rather than devoting time to reaching their dreams and that girls should start investing in themselves more.
Another fellow student articulated that girls should step up to the plate and help each other and stop putting each other down. The truth is “girls are blasting one another and are their own worst enemies; they are really critical and vicious, particularly of their own sex.” She argued to stop blaming society or men for holding girls and women back, and that it’s time to take a tough look in the mirror.
Basson thanked the students for a meaningful discussion about something that is in our control and something that we can impact on our lifetime. She encouraged the girls to work towards women empowerment and start supporting each other: "Let’s make a conscious decision to be a cheerleader for other women, to stand up and be our greatest advocates, to make a difference".
Up to date, the Centre has visited 7 high schools, 2940 girls within the capital with our immediate focus on reaching 5000 girls. The "Prosperous Path, Leading in Vocation" programme certainly is reaping the intended benefits as well as raising awareness of issues that affect women and girls in Namibia. The programme also laid the foundation of follow-up activities for an educational outreach initiative with street children, school dropouts etc.