‘Why don’t you let me flow in my space?’

Spoken Word Poetry as a Challenge to Patriarchy and Gender-Based Violence in Namibia

In: Matatu
Hugh Ellis Namibia University of Science and Technology Namibia Windhoek

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The practice of performance or ‘spoken word’ poetry has gained a significant foothold among the youth in urban Namibia in the last two decades. While this poetry has been put to many socio-political uses, one of the main ones has been a protest against patriarchal elements in Namibian society and culture, and an outcry against Namibia’s high rates of gender-based violence. Patriarchal aspects of Namibia’s national culture are often explicitly linked to violence and to the intersectional nature of oppression. Spoken word poetry has also often given LGBT+ women a space to speak out against their oppression and to normalise their existence. This article shows how women performers have used and modified the conventions of poetry and song to get this challenging—in the Namibian context often radical—message across. The paper argues that poetry in this context has the potential to approximate a localised ‘public sphere’ where inclusive discourse can be held around social issues—bearing mind that people are not excluded from this discourse because of arbitrary reasons such as gender or sexuality.

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