Women’s rights are becoming a priority in Africa. No matter how many chiefs, presidents, patriarchs refuse it’s existence, try and burn it to the ground or use the old excuse of it being against their culture, it keeps rearing it’s head, and will not be silenced. The past couple of weeks a tradition of ‘wife swapping’ which is more like ‘wife offering’ within two tribes in Namibia has been brought into questioning.
The nomadic Ovahima and Ovazemba tribes which are mostly situated in the north of the country have argued that they have been practising ‘okujepisa omukazendu’ which translates to ‘offering your wife to you a guest’ for generations but activists are fiercely opposing the custom as it can be construed as rape as most of the wives have no say in the matter. Others still question the safety of it when HIV/AIDS is such a big problem in Southern Africa.
The tribes that practice these customs are mostly reclusive, living in the North, close to Angola. The Ovahima and Ovazemba tribes have shunned modern day life and live mostly isolated from the country, raise livestock and still practice ancestral worship. It is estimated that tribes have about 86 000 members.
The ‘okujepisa omukazendu’ tradition revolves around the husbands offering their wives to their friends to allow them to sleep with her. The women have no say in the matter and cannot object once their husbands have agreed to ‘offer’ them to their friends.
Men in the tribes have argued that the custom promotes unity and friendship while women in the tribes have said that they are comfortable with it because they are used to it and it’s part of their culture. Although, activists believe that women often claim to tolerate it because they fear their husbands’ wrath.
“Women aren’t sex objects. So these men must not sit under a tree and decide how to violate women. Culture is dynamic and I respect culture, but it should never violate women.” – Sarry Xoagus Eises, Gender Links Namibia in Namibian Sun.
One of the biggest arguments against this practice is that the women do not have a say in the matter. The husbands offer their wives to the peer of their choosing and the wives have no choice but to comply with it. Eises describe the practice as ‘free rape’. The groups were also under fire when reports emerged that wanted of their members wanted to propose that a wife-swapping law be made.
The other prominent argue is the sexual safety of those involved. Namibia has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates, and many believe that practices such as these will only increase the rates and thus put the women in further danger.
The members are the tribe are adamant against keeping their tradition, noting that women can choose partners for their husbands too, even though this rarely happens. And they have said the with regards to HIV/AIDS that the tradition needs to be regulated or paired with education on the topic to prevent the spread of the virus. No concrete plans for this has been made yet.