2000 NMB: Herero and Owambo Collective Decision-Making Mechanisms and the Implications for Children's Rights Realization in Namibia
Author: Kamminga, E.
This study was undertaken with the aim to support the elaboration of the 2002-2005 GRN-UNICEF country programme, in particular on how to further develop community capacity for the realization of Children's Rights. The identified knowledge gap concerns the existing and potential decision making mechanisms at community level, which may facilitate reaching those in charge of children, and those who have particular duty in fulfilling their rights. This is considered of particular relevance in the context of the national emergency of HIV/AIDS, where thousands of children have lost one or both parents.
Purpose / Objective
The objectives of the study were:
- To identify and assess existing forms of social organization or other mechanisms at community level, and issues that are tackled by such community mechanisms as well as by individuals with authority, with a focus on their potential for influencing collective decision-making in favor of children
- To recommend which mechanisms could be strengthened and how; or which new mechanisms could be created to ensure the respect, protection, facilitation and fulfillment of "Children's Rights"
The study has covered two larger ethnic groups in Namibia, Owambo and Herero. They form respectively 51% and 8% of the total population. To get an understanding of both the rural and urban situation and the linkages in between, the following areas were selected for data collection: a) North-central communal areas. Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto Regions or the Owambo regions (former Owamboland); b) Eastern communal areas in Omaheke and Otjozondjupa Regions (former Hereroland East and West); and c) Katutura - Windhoek.
This study had, to a certain extent, an exploratory and experimental character. The goal was not only to identify and assess existing mechanisms and discover possible new entry points for intervention, but also to apply UNICEF's newly introduced human rights methodology for programming (UNICEF 1999). The following approaches were therefore chosen:
- Utilization of loose definitions of concepts such as "community-based", "collective", "mechanisms", "institutions" etc.
- A fairly elaborate literature study (see list of references)
- Application of a variety of data collection techniques particularly suitable for obtaining in-depth information rather than quantifiable data (e.g. no questionnaires)
- Collection of data in a small number of case study villages and settlements
- Interviews with a broad spectrum of resource people (see Annex A - List of resource people interviewed)
- Interviews and focus group discussions with male and female community members
- Utilization of data from both secondary resources (references) and primary resources (own data collection) in a complementary manner
Key Findings and Conclusions
Statistics show that Otjiherero speakers are, on average, better off than Oshiwambo speakers. Omaheke and Otjizondupa Regions are among the regions with the highest inequality rates (Gini coefficient), mainly caused by the low living standards of the San and Damara population. (UNDP 1998; Suzman 1997). Both societies are strongly stratified according to age, gender, class and ethnic group. This provides considerable constraints for broad-based collective decision-making.
Otjizondupa and Omaheke are among the regions with the lowest HIV/AIDS infection rates, while the Owambo regions have the highest rates (UNDP 1998; Webb and Simon 1995). This difference was very evident during the study. The pandemic is affecting all aspects of life in the Owambo regions and is becoming a major threat for the realization of Children's Rights.
Parents and the extended family are generally considered to be primary and secondary duty bearers. In the Herero and Owambo languages, no distinction is made between paternal aunts and uncles and own parents. This is also the case with maternal aunts in Oshiwambo. All are called mothers and fathers. Although the nuclear family is promoted as the national model (and favored by legislation), reality is very different among all sections. For both Owambo and Herero children, the grandparents have become the main category of duty bearers. The parents and/or other relatives who live in urban areas are culturally expected to play a supportive role, in particular in terms of finances. Further analysis shows important differences between the Herero and Owambo situation, especially when looking at accountability aspects.
In the Herero situation, grandmothers taking care of 4 to 8 young grandchildren can be seen as a nursing institution that is socially accepted in all layers of society and has an economic justification as well. Grandmothers derive additional social status from taking care of grandchildren. The arrangement is temporary until the children go to boarding school at the age of 6/7. Grandmothers generally accept the responsibility, have full authority from the parents and, under normal circumstances, have enough resources to fulfill their duty (time; money; support from relatives etc.). Identified weaknesses focus on grandmothers being uneducated; poor communication due to double generation gap; older women not participating in public meetings and having least access to information; children not being treated in an equal manner; the expected role of the parents is mainly a financial one. Most vulnerable are probably those children living with grandparents, who do not get sufficient support from the parent(s), own few animals, are too young for an old-age pension and/or depend only on such pension. As yet, few Herero children are orphans.
Owambo grandmothers taking care of grandchildren were found to be generally in a more difficult position. The responsibility is less often accepted out of free will. Many children are orphans. Less support is available from parents and other relatives. No additional social status is derived. Food must be produced through hard physical work. Unlike Herero women, they cannot demand assistance from relatives. Children stay longer, since schools are nearby. Children in their care might be older, thus resulting in more authority problems. In other words, they can often not be held fully accountable as duty bearers. The Owambo extended family system is reaching its limits.
There are important cultural constraints for expanding duty-bearing to more collective levels and for influencing collective decision making in favor of children. In the first place, Owambo and Herero societies are not only diverse, but also "pluralistic". This implies that different categories of people have different, sometimes conflicting, interests, values and perspectives. Conflicts arising from such situation cannot always be solved but it might be possible to better accommodate the interests of different categories and better manage the conflicts. It might not be possible to reduce the views to a common perspective by the reference to an absolute standard of what "Children's Rights" are or should be. In the second place, there is a high sensitivity or even resistance towards children, youth and women getting a stronger position. The defined parameter functions are predominantly needs- or well-being oriented and therefore socially more acceptable, as they do not challenge the status quo. It will be easier to establish dialogue and reach a certain consensus on the survival (basic needs) aspects of Children's Rights than on the more empowering aspects.
In the Owambo regions, many people were concerned about the increasing number of vulnerable children and caregivers, usually defined in terms of poor food security, lack of money for school fees and clothes. People were also aware of the increasing numbers of sick people and people in poor health. It can be expected that in selected communities, poverty-related problems are or will be so severe that they can trigger community-level action when proper assistance is offered in terms of mobilization, facilitation, capacity building and assistance in realization of the community identified solutions.
Several existing mechanisms that already have linkages with the parameter functions have potential to be utilized as an entry point:
- Water, emergency relief and health committees (identification of needy people and channeling of assistance; connecting traditional domestic and public domains)
- Traditional leaders (peace and welfare is their mandate; have always been involved in food relief)
- ECDCs (identification of children at risk; channeling information)
- "Influential people" (promoting discussion; initiating of identification of children at risk; improving access to information; networking and establishing channels etc.)
- Scouting organizations (community service).
According to circumstances and preferences, communities should be given the option of forming a new committee, but preferably the new functions and tasks be taken up and incorporated by existing mechanisms or motivated individuals. Capacity development in new roles and tasks will be needed. Selected traditional authorities and community legal activators should be further trained in conflict management and inheritance issues.
In the Eastern Communal areas, children of San and Damara people are most at risk. Among Herero, those children whose grandparents live on a pension only, have no or little livestock and cannot tap on the resources of other relatives, are most vulnerable. The above identified mechanisms (committees; traditional leaders; ECDCs and "influential people") could also be utilized as an entry point. The incentives for collective action, however, will be generally less strong since poverty is less widespread and acute than in the Owambo regions.
The realization of children's rights in Herero society is, to a large extent, a function of: a) the strength of the Namibian economy (e.g. meat prices), and b) the sustainability and integrity of the Herero extended family as a production and reproduction system. Establishing platforms for discussion could positively influence social cohesion within Herero society in general, and within individual families in particular. Useful linkages were found with the existing roles of headmen and youth organizations, and potentially also farmers' associations.
In Katutura, the level of community organization is generally weak and mainly focused on getting services and infrastructure to the area, and improving the security situation. Nevertheless, many residents were concerned about the increasing number of children at risk (holding a 'needs' perspective rather than a 'rights' perspective), crime, alcoholism, domestic violence etc. The new system of elected community leaders (blockheads; section leaders and section committees) offers most perspectives for identifying, assessing, analyzing, prioritizing and addressing social problems, possibly integrating some of the parameter functions. Not only much capacity development is needed, but also additional incentives, as these leaders are functioning on a voluntary basis, and motivation and morale are already rather low.
Strategies to strengthen the position of the caregivers in order to become duty bearers who can be held more accountable, should include:
- Increasing and enhancing the options of resource poorest caregivers' to produce food, to generate income etc. (e.g. through group approach)
- Creating awareness and changing attitudes and behavior of parents (fathers and mothers) so they assume more responsibility towards their children
- Creating and strengthening supporting institutions and activities: Early Childhood Development Centers; adult literacy courses; nutritional information; health facilities; safe water & sanitation; assistance for victims of domestic violence and so on
- Improving access to information on legal and social rights, including channels for Government assistance
Additional recommendations are:
- To closely follow the implementation process of the cost recovery policy by the Directorate of Rural Water Supply, in particular with respect to their approach towards "marginalized groups" and cost sharing
- To closely follow the ongoing process of "decentralization", in particular concerning the opportunities created by the establishment of Village Development Committees. These VDCs might be able to pull off a more integrated/ holistic approach towards addressing community problems. VDCs could play an important role in formulating action plans, coordination and monitoring. The planned service centers (larger settlements) in each Constituency might provide new opportunities for channeling information on social services, counseling and assistance to victims of abuse and violence etc.
- To further study the possibility of introducing a professional counseling function at primary and secondary schools
- To follow and support the discussion and development of policies and strategies concerning various pensions and emergency relief
- To undertake studies on: a) the conditions of children living at cattle posts; b) the process of "marginalization" of men in Namibian society; and c) the actual and potential contribution of modern insurance policies to social security, and the performance of insurance companies in order to assess the need for "financial literacy" training or other measures to increase the accountability and transparency of these institutions.
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