NDP4: Great For Children, Disappointing For WomenBy: DIANNE HUBBARD
NAMIBIA’S Fourth National Development Plan (NDP4) contains praise-worthy strategies aimed at children, but scant treatment of women.
The foreword by President Hifikepunye Pohamba states that “Government is keenly aware that most of the unemployed are young people and women”, but there is not a single gender-disaggregated statistic in the entire document.
NDP4 is structured around three priorities: high and sustained economic growth, employment creation and increased income equality – all topics with important gender dimensions
There are some sweeping generalisations about women here and there, and there is also a short paragraph in the opening section on gender equality and the empowerment of women: “We acknowledge that gender equality is a pre-requisite for sustainable development and that it permeates all spheres of life. We will, therefore, endeavour to create and promote an enabling environment in which gender equality and the empowerment of women are realised. Emphasis will be placed on mainstreaming a gender perspective in the principle strategies identified for the achievement of key NDP4 outcomes.”
Alas, as is so often happens under the guise of gender mainstreaming, gender disappears from the document almost completely at this point, with the only real hint that Namibians comprise people of different sexes being references to the maternal mortality rate and a general vision of future family harmony complete with responsible mothers and fathers. So women are recognised explicitly as contributors to the economy in reproductive terms, but their productive role is virtually invisible in the plan.
The absence of gender-disaggregated information on key points is glaring. For example, the report cites the broad unemployment rate of 51.2 per cent (based on the 2008 Namibia Labour Force Survey) but nowhere refers to the fact that (according to the same source) this breaks down into a 58.4 per cent unemployment rate for women compared to 43.5 per cent for men. In its discussion of agriculture, NDP4 notes the continuing importance of subsistence agriculture to many households but fails to bring in the gendered dimension of this activity in Namibia.
Likewise, the discussion of income inequality makes only passing allusions to the fact that poverty is particularly high for female-headed households, and completely ignores the potential inequalities within individual households. The gendered face of poverty means that specific interventions are needed to address this disparity, but NDP4 offers no gender-sensitive strategies.
There is one passing reference in the section on peace and political stability to the goal of eradicating “gender-based violence”, but no analysis of how this enormous problem is impacting national development.
The only specific recommendation on gender in the entire document is to “strengthen research capacity, including gender analysis research, since women are affected by poverty to a greater extent than men” – not a bad idea, but it seems half-hearted and inadequate in comparison to the report’s other specific recommendations with clear statistical targets.
What should NDP4 have included on women? We understand that it is a high-level plan designed to prioritise key issues and strategies, but it could have at the very least suggested equal access for women to land tenure, credit and employment opportunities, gender balance in training initiatives designed to develop marketable skills relevant to key economic growth areas, and law reform in the neglected field of family law where structural problems continue to disempower women and leave them economically vulnerable. And, as already noted, the need to bring an end to gender-based violence – and violence in society more generally – surely warrants more than a random mention.
When it comes to children, however, NDP4 should be applauded for its progressive recommendations. Firstly, it places a welcome emphasis on Early Childhood Development, pledging to establish 100 free, government-run ECD centres in the poorest sectors of society by 2017.
Secondly, it calls for a review of the law on birth registration, to make sure that the current trend towards increased birth registration continues.
Thirdly, it anticipates and endorses the forthcoming Child Care and Protection Bill’s division of “foster care” into two categories, separating care of children by extended family members (which will be classed as kinship care in future) from care by strangers trained to serve as foster parents – with kinship care requiring a lower level of social worker involvement and administration.
Most excitingly, NDP4 suggests reconsidering the means test currently applied to child maintenance grants, which would in future be available to kinship carers as well as to parents. The Plan notes that the administration of a means test is not cost-effective, and very challenging to apply in the context of Namibia’s large informal economy.
It also notes that applying a means test requires considerable human resources, taking scarce social workers away from higher priority tasks and increasing the likelihood of corruption because of the discretion involved. Furthermore, it can discourage families in receipt of grants from taking steps to improve their income for fear of losing the security of the grant.
NDP4 therefore strongly advocates a universal child maintenance grant, noting that “the gradual expansion of the grant system to include all children, starting with newborns, can significantly contribute to household food security, adequate nutrition and, eventually, to healthy and well-educated children”.
If the means test for child maintenance grants is not scrapped altogether, NDP4 suggests alternatively that the income threshold which determines eligibility should be raised significantly.
NDP4 also includes the welcome recommendation that all social grants should apply regular inflation-related increases based on a consumption basket of goods appropriate to poor households, or using public sector salary increases as an index.
Equally forward-thinking is the proposal to abolish contributions to School Development Funds. As one of the largest components of expenditure by households in receipt of social grants, these “school fees” tend to keep some children out of school or crowd out other vital expenditures, such as those on food and health.
NDP4 also recommends focusing on household food security and nutrition –including the extension of school feeding to ECD centres – with the specific goal of reducing child malnutrition.
The thorough, sensitive treatment of children’s issues provides a stark contrast to the almost complete absence of any meaningful discussion of women’s issues – despite the acknowledgement that both of these groups are particularly vulnerable to poverty.
There is a need to focus specifically on women to ensure that the gender gap is addressed as part of Namibia’s national development efforts. One can only hope that the Annual Sector Execution Plans which are intended to give more detail to NDP4 will do more justice to women.
* Dianne Hubbard is the coordinator of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre