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Namibian rural women negotiate for safer sex and family planning

By Ndalimpinga Iita WINDHOEK (Xinhua) -- On a Sunday afternoon, in a far flung village in northern Namibia’s Omusati Region, Hileni Kampangu sees off her two children to Sunday school. There and then, she multi-tasks between breast-feeding a small baby and tinkling a three-year-old girl.

“They are a handful. Being a young mother of four is no child’s play,” Kampungu said as she juggles between giving attention to the children.

Kampungu’s greatest wish is not to have any more children. But this might just be a wish, as exclusion from negotiating safer sex and discussing family planning with her partner may shatter that, she said.

“This is my fourth child, and by the look of things, it will not be the last,” she told Xinhua on Sunday afternoon.

Kampungu is one of the rural women finding it hard to negotiate safer sexual practices with their partners, let alone family planning.

According to 28-year-old Kampangu, she finds it hard to negotiate and discuss family planning with her partner.

“I am not very comfortable openly speaking about sexual matters with him. In addition, he rejects my suggestions to have no longer bear children, reasoning that he needs to prove his manhood, which he argues is determined by the number of children he fathers,” she said.

Kampungu shared that the community and society do not make things easy either.

“It is the mindset here. Many people in our community were raised to believe that a woman should be submissive to a man at all times and in all ways, which is seen as a sign of obedience,” she said.

She is not alone. Her younger neighbor, aged 25, courted by a 37-year-old man, finds herself in a similar situation. Ndemutya Tutaleni, a mother of four at 25 too has a tale to tell.

“Although we have attended the family planning session together, he convinced me that the nurse is jealous of me because she is not able to have more children,” said Tutaleni.

“I wish I could decide, but who will support me? My family also believe that the more children the merrier. However, taking care of four children all under the age of 10 is not easy, given that I have an inconsistent income. My partner is not very supportive with the children on a regular basis, yet he boasts of having a soccer team. He has six other children already,” she said on Sunday.

Despite the Ministry of Health and Social Services and nonprofit organisations’ efforts to decentralize health and sexual health services such as condom distribution and contraceptives to rural Namibia, Tutaleni said it’s hard to break away from her circumstances.

The ministry distributes close to 25 million condoms annually at identified outlets such as local shops, shebeens, clinics and health centers in villages. The ministry spends over 20 million Namibian dollars on purchasing condoms annually.

Information from the Ministry of Health and Social Services also shows that a certain percentage in rural areas do utilize condoms as a means of prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies as well as family planning.

In the face of rapid sensitization, education on radio and campaigns by health officials, still, Tutaleni negotiating rights for protected sex with her partner remains a taboo in their domiciliary. “When I get back home, the decision lies with my male partner because of traditional setting we grew up in, where men are the decision makers. Unfortunately this trend still holds in my area,” she said.

Takatsu Tukwatha is an elderly woman in the area. She believes that there is a need to break this cycle, starting by educating young people.

“But then again, young girls of nowadays do not listen. We tell them to get an education and commit to it, yet they go astray. When things go wrong, they want to reverse their situation. By then the damage is already done,” Tukwatha added.

“We also need to change the traditional practices and the mindset currently prevailing in our community. It needs to change, “ she added.

Meanwhile, Sheila Tlou, the Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, said during a visit to Namibia in April that to address challenges on sexual health amongst young people, Eastern and Southern African countries can do more to reach out to young people, through implementing comprehensive sexuality education, inclusive of both boys and girls to enhance the provision of services.

“Eastern and Southern African countries have good facilities such as health care centers in place, but we need to ensure that these centers to translate into good indicators,” she added.

She added that sexual health education amongst young people should also actively involve leaders at grassroots level.

“The cultural leaders need to be part and parcel of the equation and actively engaged in sexual education efforts targeted towards young people,” she said. 

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