Fiina Elago – Namibia

Fiina Elago – Namibia

Date: May 29, 2012
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My name is Fiina Elago, and I’m a councilor in Keetmansoop municipality. I have been working with Gender Links since 2006, since preparation for the Coalface report on gender issues in SADC was taking place. We have had quite a journey together!

Last year in October, we set up a COE in my municipality. This has strengthened our work on gender significantly. Even though we have only gone through 3 stages out of 9, a lot has happened. We even attended our first country summit two weeks ago in Windhoek. Unfortunately, we didn’t secure a winning position, but we still thought coming to the 2012 regional summit in Johannesburg was so important that we came on our own steam. It’s an invaluable experience to interact with so many other local government officials, learn from their experiences, and see what they are doing to handle gender issues in their communities.

As a local authority, we didn’t have a committee on gender in the past. We did have a very active committee on HIV, which was established and sponsored by UNDP. Many gender issues fell under the remit of this committee, particularly GBV, which is very closely related to the spread of HIV. However, in 2010, UNDP pulled out their support, including funding. As a local authority, we decided we had to take over this area of work; just because a donor left, we couldn’t suspend such important work. I am proud to say that we managed to budget for the gender work of this committee 100%, even though in the past, we didn’t plan to provide anything from the budget on gender. In the committee, we work with women, through many community groups and associations, but we also, crucially, bring men into our work.

Our local authority includes about 25,000 people, but economically, the community is not doing so well. Unemployment is high; we’re talking 49-50%. That contributes a lot to HIV infection rates. Youngsters have nothing to do, and they start drinking and engaging in risky lifestyle behaviors. Seeing this, we have formed a junior town council, with members who connect to youth in the communities. These junior councilors can connect with young people in a different way than I can, or other senior members of council. This initiative has been very successful.

As a council, we know that to address gender issues we need to bring a wide range of stakeholders on board, and we have done just that. We are now working with Catholic AIDs Action; they have started a center for voluntary testing, free of charge, as well as a soup kitchen to supplement the diets of people who are HIV positive. These two initiatives have really made progress in the community in terms of people knowing their status, and being able to keep on their medication with a good diet.

We are also working with an organization called People in Need, sponsored by the government of the Czech Republic. It is an NGO that has now left an organization on its own two feet in our community, run by Namibians. It works with HIV infected mothers, and there is a kindergarden on site. These women are doing needlework, beading, other other crafts. While the mother works, their children are in school, so mother and child can go to the same center. This has been a very successful model. The women get a small salary, and generates income by exporting crafts to the Czech Republic, and also by having a small stall in the local tourist information centre. This has allowed many women to make a living.

In our council, I have been chosen as the gender champion, because I have been working with Gender Links for quite some time. One of my moments of pride in this position was at the national summit two weeks ago, where we presented on three areas of our work. One was on climate change, which was presented by the junior council. We try and promote leadership at that level, so that when the junior councilors are more mature, they have the leadership skills they need to succeed.

Our council has a lot of progress to make on gender issues, but I think we are on the right track. In our budget for 2012-2013, we have a fully allocated budget for gender issues, which is a big step ahead for us. In community meetings, we have integrated gender much more. We involve the police to talk about criminality and GBV. We are also much more inclusive of parastatals and other service delivery organizations, because it is women who often use these services most. We aim to bring everyone together, and maintain gender balance.

As the gender champion on the council, I still have a heavy task ahead of me. At the regional summit, getting so many good ideas from colleagues in other countries, I can see my work load increasing even more! One important element of work for us to embark on is stronger communicating with the community. The HIV committee used to go out twice a month and display information to people, and show what is being discussed. We are going to start to do the same thing, because people need to know what we are talking about; at the moment, most people don’t understand. They think when we say gender, we mean women.

Another big challenge related to this is to expand the languages we work in. English is the official language, but different people speak different languages, and a 60 year old grandmother will not necessarily understand things written in English. Often the people we need to reach the most understand English the least. So we will start looking for translations into local languages, so we can connect more strongly to the grassroots level. It’s only when people read or hear things in their own language that it will connect with them strongly, and might move them to tell the next person.

As a local authority, we deal with the ordinary man on the street; that’s where there’s a lot of work to be done. We need to disseminate information. It’s my personal goal to advocate for women to be involved. In the community now, there’s a problem involving women in the council. If I have a meeting, women don’t think they can go stand in front of people. There is a belief, and cultural norm, that they can’t do this. Through Gender Links, we have learned ways of overcoming this. Now, we work with the women. We give them space to develop a speech, and then practice it in front of a group, to get rid of that fear. We start with one step, and then more further. At the moment, we are doing this on a minimal scale, but we want to build confidence on a larger scale. This takes time.

One thing that I really appreciate about Gender Links, is that they appreciate our work, and encourage us local authorities to learn from each other. For example, here at the regional summit, I have been so inspired to hear about the experiences of Mozambique in combatting climate change. They are really affected by climate issues, and so is Namibia, just in a different way. We are learning together, and I have tried to pick out what I can from their experiences. Even though we work in different contexts, we exchange a lot of information, and there is a lot we can take home. An important part of this is the sense of solidarity; sometimes, we get so caught up in our own problems, we forget that everyone else has them as well.

2015 is just around the corner. We can definitely say that for all of us, progress on gender has been one step forward, and two steps back. There have been successes, and there have been set backs. But, the important thing is that we are all advocating together, and we are all becoming stronger and more effective in our work for gender equality.


0 thoughts on “Fiina Elago – Namibia”

Jer says:

Very good initiative and well done Fiina for your work to improve the live of your community. From your old friend J

jhon says:

im sweet man

jhon says:

im sweet man

blackmamba says:

coool man

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