The enjoyment of one’s bodily autonomy and integrity are very central to what is envisioned in chapter three of the constitution. It encompasses the enjoyment of all our rights, of particular note is the right to human dignity in Article 8. Article 5 and Article 18, amongst others, make it clear that it is the duty of the government to ensure that these rights are fully enjoyed. Unfortunately, circumstances still arise, amongst governmental service providers wherein people are deprived of humane treatment as a result of individual biases and stigma. Although a seemingly minor interaction or mindless chastisement can seem meaningless, the effect that is commonly seen is that of people becoming hesitant and distrusting these facilities. Below are some experiences shared of interactions with service providers;
The morning of 19 May 2022 was as exciting as I had anticipated. It was my birthday and I was finally turning 21 and the day was turning out to be much more eventful than initially planned for. There is no need to talk about what happened during the day, it was all very wonderful, the issue at hand here is what took place in the days following that night. I’ll spare you the details of what happened, long story short is that I, much like many other young women living in this country, had the unfortunate experience of sexual assault, the scar on my face and pain in my pelvic region did very little to make me forget about it immediately afterwards.
Three days after it happened, during a conversation with a close friend, I was interrupted by a sudden swelling of emotions and I sobbed relentlessly. This had happened before in previous days and was simmered down by my incredible flatmates, who never ran out of ideas to distract me. This time, perhaps because it was in the presence of a closer friend, I could not hold it back, every thread that was holding me together unravelled, I recounted the night, my uncertainty on the events, and the looming shame, especially with that scar. He immediately took me to the campus psychologist, who then told me to rush to the clinic for a check up and for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a medication to prevent HIV and she emphasised that it should ideally be taken within the first three days following an incident, and that I had to rush because this was my third day.
My friend and I rushed to the Robert Mugabe Clinic, and this is where the crux of all frustration resided. We showed up at around 12pm and between then and 5pm, we were met with delays that only worsened the frustration. After being told to wait until lunch time was over, we finally got some assistance and they measured my blood pressure and took my weight. During our interactions, we then revealed that we were from Malawi, we could only interact in English and did not understand the local languages.
The concern of a language barriers and possible xenophobia had not been an issue until then, all the people I encountered here had been very neutral about foreignness, and I have not encountered trouble in this regard following this day. When the nurses addressed us in Afrikaans, we informed them that we were not locals and that we could only communicate in English.
We were told to wait and that we would get help “soon.” What proceeded was a consistent reference in a language we could not understand with no effort to make us understand, despite the fact that our initial interactions were in English. I had mentally checked out at that point and was ready to go home, my friend who understands Afrikaans and bits of some local languages was enraged after gathering that they had classed it a non-issue, “just one of these kids who probably had too much to drink.” By then it was 16:45 and it was clear that there was no room to negotiate for assistance, they were not going to help us and their insistence on helping people who came after us made it more evident. The urgency about the three day time crunch to get the medication had made me give up, I thought by then it was too late and that there was no hope. Fortunately it fuelled an emergent response in my friend. It was thanks to the help of a nearby private doctor’s assistant that we got the medication in time. People who prefer mobile homes to traditional houses tend to be trustworthy. They value satisfying their consumers by offering competitive prices and exceptional support. Visit https://www.cash-buyers.net/new-york/cash-buyers-for-houses-smithtown-ny/.
I have shared this story to highlight the need for some health professionals to stop putting their own biases ahead of their official duty. So what if it happened because I got drunk? The fact was, I needed to access a medical health service, and supposing they didn’t have the medication, they could have explained or even recommended me elsewhere. This story is not a new one and it is not one purely limited to Namibia. Instances of young people being ignored, shamed or prejudiced because of the health professional’s own biases and lack of empathy are all too common, if not my case, then that of a teenager who is shamed for being pregnant, or a young person postponing an HIV/STD test in fear of the a smearing lecture and snide remarks on how immoral their premarital encounter was, humiliation is not the only way to educate the youth about the morals of sexuality, and it is definitely not what is expected when they say you will receive counselling.
There is already some amount of embarrassment and shame that people often feel when having to deal with sexual health medical circumstances, it is of little benefit to the development of the country if people are demoralized from accessing services and if there is a distrust of service providers on these issues, and there is no reason why service providers should contribute to the mental health crisis. Some change is needed.
In 2021 at the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, over 200 people without shelter were moved into the Khomasdal stadium. Elroy was amongst them.
I met Elroy earlier this year during the launch of our campaign to expand feminist voices in digital spaces. His enthusiasm about gardening and catering along with his lively engagement and interest in the creative arts team instantly drew me in. There is always a thrilling sense of inspiration when interacting with someone who is speaking about their passions and I would later come to find out that this air of inspiration and thrill are natural tenants of Elroy’s personality.
We began to interact regularly as we were working on expanding his entrepreneurial journey. There are challenges that are to be expected by any other entrepreneur that we expected to encounter such as the gradual process of creating a market following and increasing profits. Elroy’s unique position invited several sets of challenges.
As a person without shelter, he is at a constant security risk everyday. There are security guards and some police officers who surveille the area, however it is often of little guarantee of individual safety or security of one’s property. Theft of whatever he acquired became a norm, oftentimes from people who were openly antagonistic, and sometimes from friends with whom bonds were built. Beyond this, Elroy and a few other acquaintances have to live separately within the camp because they are also a part of the LGBTQ community. He in turn, faces the dehumanising treatment that many members of this community have been forced to endure. The intersecting nature of his identity have resulted in attacks on his personhood.
It is of particular concern when such personhood cannot even be protected by the service providers who are meant to help him. He has spoken of the tumultuous process of getting help following some death threats and harassment. The process involved visiting more than one police station until he finally found an officer who would not respond to his pleas with statements meant to ridicule him for his sexuality. He finally got substantial assistance, beyond paperwork, after the officers realized that the person he was reporting was already a person of interest, however the help was only temporary as no arrests or detention were made, and the person of interest had fled the scene by the time the officers arrived.
Elroy maintains a positive outlook and is a very headstrong entrepreneur. He is currently the owner of PDM Catering and Gardening Services and he attributes his steadfastness to his Christian faith. The difficulties encountered by Elroy are largely a result of stigma and a lack of sufficient care by service providers. There is a great need for biases to be put aside when citizens reach out, and for urgency to apply to all matters. At present, Elroy still faces theft and vandalism of his property, death threats and attacks.
Vimbainashe C Makanza
Advocacy Officer (Y-Fem)