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Being Transgender in Namibia

We were asked by the author of this piece to publish their own story of their life in Namibia. We did this to shine a light on the lived experiences of SOGI people.

Warning: please note that this post contains details of a graphic and upsetting nature, including sexual assault.

Namibia has a large number of SOGI identified people on different social media accounts, of which most of them are most likely living in the closet. The visible status of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who are actually out are in much smaller numbers. However, we are all known under one umbrella term which is ‘moffie’ in the Afrikaan language, which links us all as one as a SOGI community.

The most vulnerable groups with the worst living conditions are those who are identified as lesbian, transgender women and transgender men. Since Namibia has not yet reformed the law to become inclusive and to respond to the challenges affecting the SOGI community, this makes living as one of these groups more difficult. The law of Namibia doesn’t validate SOGI communities as protected by the constitution of Namibia, and there are no equal rights or laws for minority sexual orientations and gender identities to be protected. Because of this, SOGI people encounter daily discrimination, threats to freedom, often live as homeless and have high levels of unemployment. The majority of the SOGI community here find it difficult to freely enjoy the same freedoms that are equal to that of the general citizens living in Namibia. The sad truth is that Namibian SOGI people are still regarded as criminal under the law and the Gender Justice Equality Body has no systems in place to enforce law making to reform the law.

Being a transgender woman living in Namibia seems like an unresolvable challenge that requires global activism to respond to issues that affect me and others, such as; inequality, access to health services, the criminalisation of rights, the fact that we have a less advanced level of education and our economic instability. This economic instability is the root cause of poverty among transgender people in Namibia, and because of this, members of the transgender community have engaged in high risk sex practices in exchange for money, which leads to higher chances of contracting HIV and STD's. Transgender people who don’t have any means of income have to face the everyday life struggles to meet their needs.

Our own mental health suffers, as transgender people in Namibia are also a high-risk area as we have needs that have implications on our own life and gender transitions. Those who seek access to gender reassignment programs find that these services are not available in government health facilities, and to access it through private health facilities requires medical insurance which is so expensive.

Government plans for SOGI people are still on mute and there appears to be nothing good coming from our government to support any SOGI people living in Namibia. Due to this, transgender women in Namibia remain at the most vulnerable due to their living conditions, as they face oppression and persecution due to their appearance if they cannot seek out specialist help and support. The reality of transgender life here, with limited access to medical and legal resources, means that we have limited opportunities to ever have our desired body, which means that this affects our mental health deeply.

Legal representation for transgender people doesn’t exist in Namibia, even though a number of reported cases have been taken to court. However, these have been put on hold. Since the 2007 brutal murders of two transgender women and one gay man by members of the public, human rights defenders were set to present a petition against the perpetrators of these acts, but they were all denied entry into the court.

My story that needs to be told:

On 30th September 2019, I was attacked by a man. The incident happened one evening as I was walking down the street to go toward the town square, where I usually find a safe sleeping zone as I am homeless. I had seen this man a few times before and he has been watching my movements.

When I first saw him, this man ran toward me and initially and he peacefully greeted me. Because I am a transgender woman, I was wary so I didn’t respond to him as I am cautious with strangers. The second contact with him was when he stopped me and asked about the weather. At this stage I respondent by telling him that I was in a hurry. At this point, he pulled a knife out his pocket and pointed it at me, demanding that if I’m not going to agree to make love with him this will be the end of my life.

I was wrapped in a fear of losing my life and I remained speechless, wondering what I should do to save my life. The man continued to force me to have sex with him by knife point and he dragged me against the wall and tried kissing me on my lips. I was wise enough to try escape from him by running away. However, I didn’t manage to do it, as I fell on the ground and as I fell, he tried pulling down my pants and telling me ‘this time we can make love.’ He sexually assaulted me and stole my mobile phone.

Afterwards, I regained my strength and I ran to the nearby police station. I end up being disappointed as the police officers on duty late that night were all unwilling to help me. I waited for the next morning shift. As a whole new shift started lining up actively on duty this time, I approached one of the police officers to help me, but he only referred me to the next police officer without giving me any help.

The sad story of this terrible event in my life is that not one of the police officers helped as they all gathered around and started laughing at me, telling me that it makes no sense to even understand my case if I’m not a woman. They stated that the whole story is abnormal and that there is no legal way for them to deal with my case and so I should try elsewhere.

Sadly, this is proof from my own life that shows how it is for transgender people in Namibia. Safety is not granted by any Namibian law, especially if even the police officers can’t help you. As a homeless transgender woman this has made me feel like I have no freedom of movement anymore and my dignity as a human is not valued. This is the struggle that I face every day. My own living conditions as transgender women continues to be unsafe as I continue to suffer life threats, discrimination and persecution as I live homeless, still sleeping in street.

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