Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Workday Wednesdays

in which i fulfil my contractual obligations to show that i am indeed being productive while here

“What are you doing over there in Africa, Gloria?” many people ask me. I’m pretty sure most people are convinced I’m just hiding out in the desert and pretending to do the human rights thing. Certainly that’s what my blog would reflect. so i hereby declare once a week on Wednesday - hump day - i will mention at least one thing that i’m working on. while posting random unrelated photos of animals from safari.

So what exactly am I working here in Windhoek? These days, I’ve actually been involved with a lot of legislative drafting, which is exciting and daunting at the same time. On one hand, writing laws! On the other hand...writing laws! I hate to be single-handedly responsible for messing up an entire legal system. Just kidding. If things go badly, it’s gonna be a lot of people’s faults, not just mine.

First of all, I’ve been helping with the drafting of the new Child Care and Protection Act. The old law is leftover from the South African rule and desperately needs to be re-written. We’re trying to implement new changes to include children’s rights to comply with Namibia’s legal obligations under the Convention. My part so far has been to compile a list of laws on juvenile corporal punishment that have been repealed due to the pivotal Supreme Court case In Re Corporal Punishment by Organs of State, 1991 NR 178 (SC). That case basically said that you can’t beat kids in school anymore. This means that my task mostly consisted of doing a Control-F search function for the word “whipping” throughout the Criminal Procedure Act. It was a bizarre thirty minutes.

when i was a young warthog....

I’m also in the process of helping to draft a new Marriage Act, because, as you might have guessed, we’re still using the old South African one. This is being done to address concerns about fraudulent marriages entered into by foreign nationals with Namibian citizens in order to gain Namibian citizenship. I dealt with marriage-as-immigration issues quite a bit while working for the Department of Justice and the Federal Court back in Canada, but what I found interesting was the very different issues that Namibia is facing from Canada in this regard. In Canada, some of the major concerns are vulnerable women (sometimes referred to as “mail order brides”) who are sponsored by their spouses in Canada…but when the relationships turn abusive, they are unable to leave the relationship for fear of being deported from the country because they would no longer have status. In Namibia, some of the concerns seem to be foreign men wanting to take advantage of Namibian women by pretending to be interested in a genuine marriage when really they may be only entering into the marriage for immigration purposes. Different cultural issues, different gender inequalities. Fascinating stuff. Let me know if you know how to solve this problem.

I’m also helping with the writing of the organization’s report on the effectiveness of the Combating Against Domestic Violence Act since it was enacted in 2003. This Act allows a complainant to obtain a protection order against her abuser, separate from the criminal process, which is a bonus if an abuse victim wants to get help/protection but doesn’t want to have the abuser formally charged. This required me to read through all sorts of court files and find that some abusers get really creative about what kind of ordinary household objects could be used as weapons. The number of men who assault their pregnant wives is shocking! As upsetting as it can get, it only reminds me of the problems that exist in society that this Act is trying to address. One particular task I’m working on with regards to this Act is drafting a new application form to be included in the regulations, amended to eliminate some of the confusion (and typos) arising in the old form. Because let’s face it: if you’re an abuse victim trying to obtain protection from the Court, the last thing you want to deal with is pages and pages of legal jargon.

Yesterday, I accompanied my boss to a meeting with representatives from UNICEF, the UNDP, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare to finalize the country's National Plan of Action on Gender-Based Violence, before submitting it to Cabinet for approval. Given my legal (and non-policy) background, I was glad to have a chance to observe the government policy-making process that the public sees so little of. The intense discussions around the table helped me become aware of the various sensitive social issues (including baby-dumping, sex workers, persons with disabilities) came in very unique forms in the specific Namibian context, so I was grateful for the great learning experience.

For example, I thought it was very interesting that the the local churches here are so involved in trying to promote gender equality, given the fact that too many churches back in North America are still preaching that wives must submit to their husbands because women are inherently inferior. Given that gender inequality is intricately linked to domestic violence, maybe some of these North American churches could stand to benefit from learning about these Namibian dialogues. In general, I was glad to see how the government seemed committed to combating gender-based violence (hopefully these plans will translate to actions!). I was also impressed by how well-spoken and insightful many of the participants were, when it was clear that English is often the second or third or fourth language for many of them. I especially enjoyed the sandwiches as well - always keep your workers well-fed.