Thursday, August 2, 2012

photo shoot! discussing domestic violence and gender-based violence

One of the coolest projects I've worked on as a public interest lawyer (besides helping to write a comic book) was helping to run a photo shoot to develop a series of photographs as part of the Legal Assistance Centre's public awareness campaign about domestic violence.

Sylvia Kincses is a photographer from New York who was visiting Namibia at the time, and offered to provide her services for this cause. The photo shoot was pretty fun, despite the serious subject matter, and a nice break from report writing and legal research.

Our organization then turned these photographs into informative posters.

The organization has now finally released a major report on domestic violence in Namibia, evaluating how the domestic violence legislation is working in the country. It's a comprehensive report that I have had the privilege of helping out with. You can read about the findings here:

I've discussed the topic of domestic violence and gender-based violence before, both in the context of Namibia and for Canada as well, and the topic remains important to me. I think it's important that we continue to fight these battles and educate the public about these important issues. Recently, in my hometown of Ottawa, a Para Transpo driver (a public service transporting people living with disabilities) pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman in a wheelchair who had both intellectual and physical disabilities. The part that stuck out the most for me was this quote from the accused:

Fuentes said he didn’t know the woman lived in a group home and he didn’t remember her saying no or resisting him.

This statement shows a problem with what people understand about consent. In the landmark case R v. Ewanchuk, the Supreme Court of Canada found that there was no such thing as implied consent when it came to sex. In other words, you can't go around assuming that everybody wants to have sex with you. You have to make sure that the other person is consenting. Not hearing a "no" is not enough to assume consent; you have to actually get a green light to go. This rape case should never have happened. It should be common knowledge that you need a person's consent, but it seems like this is not something that everybody understands, or else you wouldn't hear of so many cases of people engaging in such behaviour when the other person is too intoxicated or incapacitated to give their consent. This is why I think it's important to engage in public awareness campaigns, educating people so that it is common knowledge that consent must be given, just like it should be common knowledge that you can't beat your spouse.

I recently finished reading a crime novel called The Hour of the Jackal by Bernhard Jaumann. As far as murder mystery crime thriller goes, it's pretty standard in many aspects of the plot, but what was particularly interesting for me was its setting, as the novel takes place in Windhoek, Namibia. It is the only crime novel I've found so far that takes place in Windhoek. Of course I loved the chance to revisit a city that I fell in love with, but what I found particularly inspiring was the author's subtle message about society's complacency after Independence. The novel's plot is closely connected to the assassination of anti-apartheid fighter Anton Lubowsky, the first white man to openly fight for SWAPO (he also helped found our organization, the Legal Assistance Centre). His murder has still been left unsolved, possibly for political reasons.

A character in the novel asks if Lubowski fought and died for freedom for no reason. I find these words to be inspirational about continuing to push for better conditions in society, not just in Namibia but in our own neighbourhoods as well:

"Is that what Lubowski died for?

"Twenty years have gone by, and still no one wants to know what really happened. The reasons for this have undergone a stealthy change, that's all. People have settled into drab routine, into a rut unworthy of all the struggles that raged in thepast. They have no wish to be reminded that quite different aspirations once prevailed, and that people were murdered for them. Lubowski isn't buried under one-and-a-half metres of earth, but under the guilty conscience of those who have outlived him. Because we don't want to admit to ourselves that we've made nothing out of them, the dramas of the past must remain unspoken. And so, Lubowski has ben sacrificed twice over. Not, this time, for a better future, but so that people can continue to wallow in the dismal and rather dirty but otherwise not uncomfortable morass in which they have somehow ended up. Insufferable, isn't it?

"So what? some will say now. Lubowski doens't care anymore, dead is dead. I take a different view. The dead can be murdered a second time, but you can also try to prevent that."