In 2009, ten women were supported by the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) to attend a meeting in South Africa where they heard about the Rural Women’s Assembly that operates in 11 countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC). At that meeting, the Namibian delegation decided to establish the Namibian Rural Women’s Assembly (NRWA) that would be a national chapter of the larger regional RWA.
Since then, NRWA members have represented Namibian rural women at summits and conferences throughout Africa, implemented a Rural Women Empowerment Project in Namibia, and created awareness around issues such as land reform and Gender-based Violence. To further grow the influence and capacity of NRWA, it was established as a Trust in 2020 after holding its first national conference and electing 12 members to the NRWA committee.
Formalisation will increase funding opportunities and ensure that the NRWA becomes a recognised stakeholder on issues that affect its members. The Namibia Development Trust (NDT) provided technical assistance for the NRWA prior to formal establishment, while the NACSO IDWG has recently come on board as a partner. They are seeking to use these and other institutional linkages to develop their own capacity and increase funding available for training and support of their members.
A defining feature of RWA’s throughout SADC is that they are self-organised and driven by grassroots associations and alliances within their respective countries. The NRWA operates in all 14 regions of Namibia, and those regions that are able to attract over 200 members become chapters of the NRWA. By the end of 2020, four regions had established chapters and six more were soon to follow. The broad membership base and widespread operations ensure that issues raised by rural women from all parts of Namibia can be brought to attention at national and international levels.
According to their mission statement, the NRWA exists to mobilise and empower rural women through advocacy, lobbying and networking. They made great strides towards this goal during 2020, despite the COVID-19 restrictions on travel and public gatherings. The advocacy issues they have identified include: land ownership, child marriages, discrimination, GBV, teenage pregnancies, food security, human-wildlife conflict and the impacts of climate change on women, among others. NRWA sensitises their members on these issues and works with government and other civil society organisations to find ways to address these challenges.
Food security is an on-going problem for many rural women, and the impact of COVID-19 and related economic woes have worsened the situation. NRWA therefore carried out an assessment of the food security situation in Namibia towards the end of December 2020 in preparation for a one-day conference with the theme: “Unlocking Opportunities for Improved Household Food Security”. Representatives of 11 key stakeholders in the food production sector were invited to give presentations to 100 NRWA members during this conference. Those present were therefore able to identify opportunities for rural women to access technical, financial or in-kind assistance to improve their food security.
Besides capacity building and advocacy, NRWA opens the door for practical assistance to rural women. One of the steering committee members used the training she received in hydroponic fodder production (funded by Food and Agriculture Organisation) to train 50 more farmers in the Erongo Region. The Erongo chapter of NRWA further received a donation of seed worth N$ 5,000 from the NNFU, which was given to 62 women from the Okapere Rural Women Gardening Project. In the Kunene Region, 50 hectares of land was donated by the Daure Daman Traditional Authority to women in the Sorris-Sorris Conservancy to be used as a vegetable garden. Since its formalisation, the NRWA is now in a position to take off. This institution filled an important vacuum within the Namibian civil society sector, as there was no other organisation focusing specifically on the problems faced by rural women. As the NRWA grows in membership and influence, rural women will be able to present their challenges to policy-makers, donors and other partners. This strong network will further help women to share their knowledge and experiences with each other, thus developing resilience and strength within their communities.