We recently spent a week in Walvis Bay, on the western coast of Namibia, training an action group from the Walvis Bay multi-purpose centre about what advocacy is, and how to do it. It was really nice to get out of Windhoek for a bit, especially since Winter has set in, and it's FREEZING at night and in the morning now. Surprisingly, on the coast, it was still quite hot. Taking off our coats for a week was welcome relief.
The 'Erongo Action Group', as they call themselves, had realised that the issue of domestic violence is HUGE in the Erongo region, and had decided to do something about it. Exactly what they were going to do, though, they weren't sure of - and that's where the LAC and NANASO stepped in. Alex and his colleague Gabes from the Legal Assistance Centre, and Kat from NANASO (Namibian AIDS umbrella organisation) had been giving training on advocacy in many regions of Namibia - which I'd accompanied them on to do my gender research. In Walvis, they'd applied for an extra budget to help this particular group further, by giving more hands-on training and support. I'd been asked to go along as a representative of Friendly Haven and an 'expert' on domestic violence.
The group was really lovely and fantastic to work with, and were very patient with the fact that we needed to translate each English sentence into Afrikaans and Oshiwambo (some participants understood English, some didn't and Gabes communicated with them in their local languages). Translation meant that each exercise took a LONG time - but it gave us time to assess the group and to make revisions to our plan as and where necessary.
Gabes discussing what advocacy is - it's a tool for positive change!
Having discussed advocacy and what it can be used for, I gave a session on the cycle of violence. There were some really heartbreaking stories of how the police in Walvis Bay treat victims of violence, for example, waiting three hours before responding to calls, or telling a victim to "go and get" her abuser and "bring him to the police station" herself. This is in clear contravention of Section 26 of the Domestic Violence Act 4 of 2003 in Namibia, which states that police response to domestic violence cases must be prompt, prioritised, and give protection to the victim.
The cycle of violence
Alex and Kat then led the groups through an exercise exploring the 'roots' and 'results' of domestic violence, using the image of a tree. This gets participants thinking about where an issue comes from, and the problems it can cause. The following day, the results of this exercise were presented during a big community meeting that they'd organised, gathering together the local governor's office, police, NGOs and other organisations. Everyone made a commitment to undertake action after the meeting, and Kat and I wrote down their specific action-promises in a plan for the group.
At the community meeting, presenting the results of the tree exercise
Following the meeting, the group were fired up about the possible avenues that they could take for their advocacy campaign - it was time to help them focus on what angle they would like to take. Dividing them into groups, we asked them to choose one thing they would tell the police commissioner about domestic violence. One group worried us a little as they chose to say that "we must tell women not to withdraw cases". Now, of course, we can't tell people what they should campaign on. But this was missing the point - telling women not to withdraw cases neglected to address the reasons WHY they withdraw cases (police incompetence and intimidation, threats from the family, economic independence, etc). Fortunately, the other groups had thought of things like 'police should talk to victims in local languages' and 'police must adhere to Section 26 and treat victims better'. In the end, everyone voted on which angle they would take for their campaign, and chose 'Police must adhere to Section 26: prompt, prioritise and protect'. We pointed out how, if they did this, it would encompass the other concerns too, so everyone was happy with that.
Discussing which angle to take
Of course, being near to Swakopmund, a bustling coastal town, meant that after work one evening, Alex and I drove the 30km with Gabes to sit on the beach and have dinner at the lovely Tug restaurant. Gabes went to see his cousin, and we bought fantastic coffee and watched the sun set over the water.
On the beach at Swakopmund
Alex still working
Me not working
The sea air works up an appetite!
Gabes and his cousin joined us for a beer at the Tug, and then went to eat with family while we watched the sun dip into the ocean, imagining what Rio would be like at this time of year.
Sitting in the restaurant, having a sundowner
The beach looking South
The work undertaken with the group over the next few days included practical advocacy tasks, such as working on how to write a press release, how to write a petition and gather signatures. After everyone had written their petition, we typed it up, printed it out and divided them into three groups: Gabes, Alex and I each accompanied a group as they went into the community to gather signatures. My group had walked to the local Owambo market, and gathered signatures there. Any shyness was quickly lost as they got into the swing of talking to people about their cause. As the only white person in the whole market, I rather stood out - any hopes of discretely observing and supporting my group were quickly dashed. One drunken man swayed over to me and attempted to pull me into a huge bear hug - all the ladies in the market standing near tutted at him as I extricated myself, whilst the men smirked and laughed. "This is what I mean about the men here," said one of the women collecting signatures "they don't respect women and they don't think you can say no." She and the others started taking signatures again, whilst I chatted to some of the women selling white spinach patties. Within an hour, everyone had collected nearly 300 signatures and were feeling very proud of themselves. This is advocacy in action - and they realised that it can be that simple.
Discussing a press release
Near the end of the week, we discussed what further support we could give them, and when one of the women said she wanted to do a computer course, we offered to pay. She was thrilled, and we managed to sign them all up (when Kat called the chairperson of the group the following week, she said that they'd had their first lesson and had learnt what a computer is and how to turn one on - they were even getting email addresses. It was so lovely to hear). And, finally, our time had come to an end. Gathering for a final photo, we said goodbye to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund - the last time that Alex and I would go there - and drove back to Windhoek.
The Action Group