#ShutItAllDown: The Ongoing Fight Against Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Namibia

The ongoing #ShutItAllDown movement that sparked at the beginning of October is a movement against sexual violence and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Namibia. The youth started this campaign by taking to the streets of Windhoek after the remains of Shannon Wasserfall were found on October 6.

Shannon Wasserfall was a 22-year-old who went missing on April 10 in the coastal town of Walvis Bay. Not knowing what happened to her, her family, community, and activists took to social media to raise awareness about her disappearance. As her story and a desperate plea for her return spread through the internet there was a viral campaign to bring her home. Tragically, there was no information about her whereabouts until 6 months after her disappearance. Her father, Tega Mateus received an anonymous text informing him about the possible location of his daughter. After passing this information on to the police, Shannon Wasserfalls’ remains were found in a shallow grave near Walvis Bay. Shannon Wasserfall’s name tragically gets added to the countless number of women who have been victims of SGBV. Women such as Viola Swartbooi, Melanie Janse, and Juanita Mabula were all brutally murdered.

Shannon’s story sparked the #ShutItAllDown protests as the youth were getting tired of the ongoing culture of SGBV coupled with the lack of action from the police. ,,According to the Native Magazine, “[f]or years, the Namibian police have been accused of negligence and nonchalance when it comes to the investigation of violent crimes committed against women.” The protests point towards a larger problem in society and push for a change in the culture, as well as legislation that protects women and effectively persecutes the perpetrators of the violence.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Namibia has been a huge problem with high rates of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), Rape, and Murder. According to the Namibian Police Force, during the 18 months ended June 2020, 1,604 rape cases were reported. This essentially means that for 540 days between January 2019 and June 2020, 3 rape cases were reported to the police every day. Furthermore, in 2019 the Gender-based Violence Protection Unit in Windhoek reported that between December 2018 and September 2019 it received on average 200 cases of domestic violence per month. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risk of IPV.

The protests ask for the government to declare a state of emergency over SGBV, and prioritize reviewing sentencing laws for sex offenders and murderers. The campaigners also called for the resignation of Doreen Sioka, Minister of Gender, Equality, Poverty Eradication, and Social Welfare.

In an interview with Newzroom Afrika, Bertha Tobias a Youth Leader says, “so while the protest was definitely inspired by that headline it is also much bigger and speaks to a general culture in the country which commodifies women and which perpetuates harmful perceptions of women which then perpetuate femicide and sexual and gender-based violence. Young people are tired of these endless tragedies of women being murder. The #ShutItAllDown protests were a manifestation of the power of coming together and mobilizing to be heard. They have raised global awareness and will continue until they see substantive action, actual policy formulation, and implementation.

The protests in the street, however, were met with police on October 10. People were arrested at Zoo Park in Windhoek while protesting for the end of violence against women and girls. They came to be known as the Zoo Park 25 and inspired more protests against the wrongful treatment of the protestors.

As the #ShutItAllDown movement is ongoing, Youth Leaders and protestors alike continued to raise awareness by taking to the streets, raising awareness online through the ShutItAllDown hashtag, and maintaining pressure on officials to make policy changes. The Government responded to the demands of the protestors with an official statement on October 13. The official statement can be seen underneath.

President Hage G. Geingob met with the youth leaders protesting SGBV. ,,In a tweet from the Official account for the Presidency of The Republic of Namibia, the meeting’s agenda was explained as:

“Welcoming the youth leaders to The Presidency, President, @hagegeingob reassured the delegation that their goals were achievable and that fighting against the scourge of gender-based violence was not only their struggle but also a collective struggle”.

The #ShutItAllDown movement is a message from the youth to society that violence in all forms against women can no longer continue, and they are using their collective voice to enact change by sparking national debate and influencing legislative change.

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