Employers urged to invest in gender equity programmes

By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek – Alwyn Strauss, a geotechnical engineer and employer was recently severely scrutinised after he refused to supervise a female trainee engineer on the basis of her colour (black) and his delusions that the government has introduced anti-white policies.

Ankita Ndakukamo, initially approached Strauss, the only soil engineer in the country, qualified to supervise trainees in the field.

However, her dream was dashed after Strauss refused to assist according to audio recording that was leaked to the media.

His reason: “Because you are a black person, you are a black lady” and because the empowerment policies such as the proposed New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework are meant to drive whites out of Namibia.

Employment Equity Commission head Commissioner Vilband usiku who expressed shock over Strauss’ actions.

Usiku said some white employers are still stuck with the apartheid mind-set 26 years after independence.

“When I read this in the media, the first thing that came into my mind is that such a person is like a dinosaur that continues to exist in a wrong era.

“In other words, this is a person that still believes that a white person can still discriminate against blacks with absolute impunity. He forgets that Namibia is a free and independent country and the philosophy of apartheid can no longer be tolerated. So if he feel he doesn’t like black, it is better he pack and go where there are no black people,” and angry Uusiku said.

The Commission was established in 1998 to monitor employment equity at workplaces through the application of the Affirmative Action Act of 1998.

The affirmative action legislation was introduced to address the racial and gender imbalances at workplaces.

As Commissioner, Uusiku is tasked to ensure that employers put in place and practice programmes that promote equal opportunities.

“The Employment Equity Commission was then established to oversee the implementation of the affirmative action legislation as well as to give advice to relevant employers on how to design and implement affirmative action programmes effectively,” he said.

He further said since the introduction of Affirmative Action, progress has been made in terms of gender equity and equality, although men still dominate at management level.

“Based on the statistical data from affirmative action reports received from Namibian employers the desired level of equity, especially at the top three occupational levels is still far from being achieved,” he said.

According to Usiku, it is imperative that employers and businesses are constantly reminded of the importance of promoting the ideal of a diverse and racially representative workforce that reflects on the national demographics at all levels.

“The goal of equal employment opportunities is not likely to be attained unless designated employers move a step further to address gender equity as well as create a working environment free from racial stereotypes and any form of prejudice” he said.

Usiku revealed that during 2015/2016 financial year, the Commission received a number of complaints about discrimination in terms of remuneration and employment opportunities.

While persons with disabilities have also lodged complaints citing unfair discrimination.

“The Affirmative Employment Act requires the employers to provide training to designated groups to assist them to acquire the required skills so that they stand a good chance for promotion.

“Of course, there are companies and employers who are investing heavily in gender equity programmes and training of designated groups to make sure they have equal opportunities to get a job,” he said.

The Commission, he said, is aware of the perception and negative mind-set of some employers about conceiving women as incompetent and lacking required skills.

“The fact that women are the majority graduates at institutions of higher learning, this is an indication that they more educated and competent enough to compete with men in all spheres of life.

“Therefore, the argument that women lack skills for me does not hold water. I believe those are just misconception created by men to discriminate.

“Competence is not about gender but about individuals in a sense that you might find men that are competent and some that are incompetent and the same applies to women,” he said.

Usiku pointed out that the majority of women are at all level including management level in the public sector, parastatals and retailers.

He said although women also make the majority in the finance sector, very few make it to the management level.

While sectors such as mining and security sectors are gender equity, the mainstream of designated groups into the management level is moving at a snail pace.

Although the affirmative Act was amended in 2006, the Employment Equity  Commission feels there is still need to amend it to plug the existing loopholes.

“We have not made a proposal to the line ministry yet but we are busy analysing the act to in order to find out which clause need to be readdressed,” he said.