Irene Garoës is a feminist youth activist and a member the The Southern African Alliance for Youth Employment (SAAYE) working group, representing young women, LGBTI issues and youth-led civil society in Namibia. SAAYE, an advocacy network, was formally established in February 2016 with support from the Commonwealth Foundation. SAAYE’s vision is a Southern Africa where young people have access to gainful and productive employment that enables them and their communities to be lifted out of poverty. 

As a young black lesbian woman living in a developing country, the challenges one faces are interlinked. As a young women growing up in a society that is rooted in religious and traditional believes, my voice is often silenced. Due to the apartheid element in the history of Namibia, being black can also put you in an economically disadvantageous position. I am lucky enough to grow up in a family where education for girls is encouraged but the issue is affordability. If you cannot afford quality education, you do not have access to a good paying job which in turn means you cannot afford access to health, education and good housing. Not only for yourself but for your family members. And the circle keeps going. Likewise if you are a young entrepreneur, you cannot access finances because you don’t have collateral even if you have the skills to start a business. That is why access to information is such an important aspect of living in this world for me, especially for young women who don’t know about their basic human rights or how to empower themselves and others, economically or otherwise.

“If you cannot afford quality education, you do not have access to a good paying job which in turn means you cannot afford access to health, education and good housing.”

If one takes time to listen to what’s happening in other African countries you get the sense that Namibia is in a better situation. It often is. But this view does not account for the fact that 39.2% of youth who can work are still unemployed. The women’s movement in Namibia has done a lot, evident today in the fact that 47% of parliament is female However, during the liberation struggle women in general suffered from torture, imprisonment, rape, social and economic hardship as their rights did not matter compared to the common good of the people – which was to fight for the independence of the country first. This and other factors such as religion and cultural practices has translated into a post-independent Namibia where women remain marginalised.

“How can you bring about change if your approach is not gender sensitive or gendered?”

It is therefore important that any struggle that we as young people develop and get involved with today is informed and shaped through gender lenses. Women make up more than half of our population and yet they are the ones that are most disadvantaged, so how can you bring about change if your approach is not gender sensitive or gendered? These are exciting times, young people of Africa are rising and demanding spaces in political and economic spheres, the time to rise and act is now, for the future of our continent and the world. Access to information is on the agenda, youth issues are on the agenda, women’s issues are on the agenda. And SAAYE is here to drive that. We need to be conscious of what is happening around us, develop those around us, and march on!

About Women’s Leadership Centre
Established in Windhoek in 2004, the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) is a Namibian-based feminist organisation that envisions a society in which all women actively engage in shaping the politics, practices and values of both public and private spaces. The WLC facilitates the voice and expression of Namibian women through information sharing, education, research, writing, photography, and the publishing of critical feminist texts that we distribute within Namibian society.

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