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Gender-based violence: a pastoral quest for masculinity transformation and gender-balanced power relations among the Ovawambo of Namibia.

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In Ovawambo culture, a man is perceived as the head of the family, family property owner, breadwinner and family protector. He is mandated by culture to have control over the woman and over all the valuable family assets. However, with Namibia’s independence came a new constitution and gender reform laws that redefined gender roles and affected age-old norms and long-held beliefs about masculinity. The law reforms empower women and emancipate them from patriarchal gender injustice thereby commanding equality for men and women in all cultural and social spheres of life. The aim of this study is to identify the driving force behind gender-based violence and its relation to Ovawambo patriarchal gender structure, Namibia’s constitutional reforms in respect to gender roles, as well as male unemployment and power abuse. Employing a qualitative empirical approach based on semi-structured interviews with three focus groups, one-on-one interviews among 40 Ovawambo participants, and participatory observation, the study investigates the experiences of men who are crushed between the old and new gender relationship structures. Findings reveal that there is a growing fear of losing power among Ovawambo men and that imbalance of power in gender relations is at the root of gender-based violence in Ovawambo intimate relationships. The male participants resented the gender equality and family laws which they believe undermine their power and masculine identity. The situation forced them to abuse their power in order to maintain their superiority to women. However, the study shows that gender legislation alone cannot promote peace and human rights in Ovawambo intimate relationships. To address the issue of patriarchy, power abuse, and gender imbalance between men and women, it is helpful to view power from the theological perspective of compassion and vulnerability. Thus, the research endorses the theopaschitic model reframed by the theology of the cross and resurrection according to Luther, Moltmann and Louw. It is argued that theopaschitic theology could help to transform the Ovawambo traditional understanding of masculinity because it emphasizes God’s compassion and pathos. However, transforming men’s attitudes and values alone is not enough. There is a need to transform the self-understanding of both men and women to accommodate gender equity. Thus, this study also adopts a pastoral uukwanankali koinonial (compassion and fellowship) model to influence both Ovawambo uukwanankali social communitarian philosophy that is based on compassion and the understanding of the current gender biased laws to help both men and women to shift from traditional patriarchal, hierarchical competitiveness and injustice to fellowship, compassion and gender justice.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.