The Feminist Movement in Namibia has had a significant impact on the manner in which women are regarded in the country. Granted there still is a lot of room for improvement, however we cannot disregard the works of the feminists who have been working to ensure that the situation changes for women.
That being said, there has been a key factor that organizations such as the Young Feminists Movement (Y-FEM), Lifeline, Outright Namibia and Positive Vibes Namibia and others have worked towards addressing, outside of the socio-economic and impacts of societies that experience great gender inequalities. In this regard, I refer to mental health; catering to the question of actual care for the individuals affected by the social structure. It seems like such an obvious factor however it is often neglected in favour of the “strong woman” trope; essentially the idea that strong women can get through anything and that strength is shown through endurance. To quote Namibian feminist writer Charmaine Gamxamus, the trouble with endurance is that a lot of young women have been raised to “…be the perfect prey” and that the woman has been “…raised to believe that the other is more important than the self…” and statistics of abuse and femicide prove this to be true. Therein comes the impact of feminist activism on mental health:
1) Feminist activism is rooted in building oneself
Feminist activism inherently focuses on allowing one to build their voice and self-empowerment. Through teaching about self-love while addressing issues that have often been a source for self-hate, guilt and shame, the feminist movement in Namibia has taken leaps at improving how a lot of young women view themselves and respond to situations that older generations would otherwise have endured through for the sake of being strong. Through a wide array of activities that primarily focus on honing one’s voice, one is taught to embrace and build an inherent sense of power and it has been evident through the continuous activities of these movements.
2) Power built through a sense of solidarity
In as much as being individualistic is incredibly useful for the self and strengthening of one’s mental health, we cannot escape human beings as being social creatures. Borrowing from the general understanding and principle from the Shona proverb, “One thumb can’t crush lice,” in the face of a social problem, such as that of gender disparities, it takes a community or joint effort, within that is the sense of fulfillment that comes with being a part of something greater, the satisfaction of putting one’s efforts into a collective effort. Mental health wellness is born out of this sense of community, the fundamental element of mental wellness in this comes from being part of something that is dedicated to being rid of socially conditioned reactions to each other’s differences such as judgment, shunning and exclusion. The core idea of sisterhood and solidarity is emphesized within this community.
3) Escaping the victim mentality
Escaping the victim mentality in this case is by no means an effort to undermine the emotions and position of an individual who has suffered in one way or the other. The feminist movement in this aspect seeks to make individuals feel empowered from having gone through a traumatic or otherwise painful experience. This is to actively fight the constant fear or lasting sense of weakness or inferiority that often comes with having been victimized. It can often make one loom in this overwhelming sense of powerlessness particularly to certain types of people or situations. The feminist movement, through activism, encourages young women to face those fears aand realise their phenomenal capacity to bring about change as well as to change their experience of the world, that they could overcome the fears they hold and become fearless, vibrant leaders.
Feminism in Namibia not only serves to cause a radical shift in the Namibian socio-political and economic spheres but to cause this shift within all individuals who engage it. It is a movement that actively recognizes that policy change is not the only aspect that must be focused on, but the impact on me wellness and development of each affected individual.
By Vimbainashe Makanza
Vimbainashe is a pan-african feminist, mental health advocate, and blogger. She has been involved in mental health advocacy and feminist activism within YFEM since 2020 and you can find her written works at www.floatingotterz.wordpress.com.