One of the earliest post-colonial (or post-protectorate) waves of feminism in Botswana, saw the establishment of Emang Basadi, a civil society organisation which advocated for women’s rights, and was one of the organisations which saw the women’s movement in Botswana advocate for women as belonging in public spaces.
This encapsulated the involvement of women in politics. This wave of feminism saw the advocacy of women’s civil and political rights.
The advocacy involved speaking against the treatment of women as children, belonging to men; first their fathers and then their husbands. This movement promoted for the de-domesticating of women, and insisted that women be accorded the same treatment as their male counterparts. On this backdrop, the Unity Dow case was registered.
The case questioned the then citizenship law which insisted that children born to Batswana men and non-Batswana women could take the citizenship of their father, whereas children born to Batswana women with non-Batswana men could not take the nationality of their mothers.
The law was questioned as discriminatory and therefore in violation of the Constitutional provision that all persons are equal, and should be accorded equal treatment before the law.
This wave of feminists who pushed for women’s participation in their government, and insisted on the protection of individual’s rights and freedoms from infringement by government and social organisations was situated in a global agenda and more specifically a regional movement with similar objectives, although at different stages of their advocacy. In 1995, at the Fourth Conference on Women, commonly referred to as the Beijing Conference, a Platform for action was established, looking at very specific and critical areas of concern. Most of the critical areas of concern were with regards to the advancement of women and the achievement of equality between women and men as a matter of human rights and as a condition of social justice, which should not be seen in isolation as a women’s issue.
The President of the conference emphasised that empowerment of women and equality between women and men are pre-requisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural and environmental security amongst all peoples. Governments, international community and civil society and the private sector were called upon to take strategic action in specified strategic areas, including the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women, inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education, training and health care services, violence against women, inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and access to resources, inequality between men and women in sharing power and decision making at all
Following Beijing, the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa was drafted. The Protocol guarantees comprehensive rights to women. Beyond political participation and equality of women to men, the Protocol improves the autonomy of women’s reproductive health decisions. The Protocol was adopted by the African Union in 2003, and it entered into force in 2005.
In Botswana’s context, this meeting was followed by changes in governance, policy as well as domestic relations. Inroads were built in the Constitution making process as well as the broadening of the public agenda. Various statutes were enacted including the Abolition of Marital Powers Act, which amends the matrimonial property of married women. The Domestic Violence Act was also enacted to affording women and all other persons, protection from domestic violence. The Penal Code provisions which criminalise abortion were also amended. The amendments effectively provided partial access to abortion for women who had become pregnant as a result of rape, or women who are carrying a fetus that is deformed, as well as women who’s continued pregnancy could possibly result in the death of said woman, or the fetus they carry.
Feminist struggles have shaped processes of re-conceptualising feminism and distinctiveness of identity in Botswana. It has created inroads, and has resulted in laws being enacted. This is why feminism is important. To allow society a space to reconfigure itself, and refashion itself into an inclusive space for all. A tolerant space.
The reason the beginning of this series was not definitive, and in contrast was rendering, is because many people distance themselves from feminism because of what they understand it to be, and not necessarily what it is. It is, in this sense important to acknowledge the feats of feminism in the form of the historical women’s rights movement in Botswana,- be it ideological and not necessarily so defined- before entering the space of interrogating the construct of feminism, with a particular lense of the country’s context. So what is this feminism?
Lesego N Nchunga ©