16 Days of activism is a worldwide campaign to oppose violence against women and girls. Commemorated from the November 25 to December 10, the aim of the period is to bring together individuals, movements, governments as well as civil society institutions, to raise awareness on violence and abuse of women, to call for the prevention of said violence, as well as to rid society of abuse, permanently.
Simply defined, abuse is any form of behaviour that causes fear, bodily harm, or any person to do things against their will. Abuse can take on various forms. These include physical, emotional, psychological, emotional, or financial abuse. Rape and any other sexual assault are also forms of abuse.
Our Parliament has passed laws to protect the rights of persons in Botswana, and with particular emphasis on women and children. These statutes, the Domestic Violence Act, Children’s Act, Affiliation Proceedings Act, Abolition of Marital Powers Act are intended to promote the dignity of women and children and the supremacy of the Constitution.
One of the greatest challenges related to sexual violence in Botswana is sexual harassment in the workplace. There is a great need to target institutions in which gender-based violence (GBV) is perpetuated, and to push for systematic change and accountability. The intention is to highlight the longstanding impunity, silence and stigma that have been subsisted which created a conducive environment for GBV in the workplace, to escalate tremendously.
GBV in the workplace often takes the form of sexual harassment, which too, is a gendered form of violence, with women disproportionately falling victim to preying colleagues.
The theme is also preceded by January 2018 reports on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault reports, at her offices, all around the world. It was reported that accusers were ignored and perpetrators were left to act with liberty and immunity.
In June 2018, it was reported that a document containing gory details of how Batswana envoys on diplomatic service were using their diplomatic immunity as a warrant to commit crimes including sexual assault. The report apparently suggested that there are men in diplomatic service who have used sex to bait women into sexual harassment in the work place. The investigative report disclosed the tricks used by men in this service to intimidate junior diplomats into sleeping with them.
The world of work is not the easiest to navigate. Like the rest of society, it is unfortunately not free from violence with various performances of power and authority.
Tshepo Mogapaesi, in a paper on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Lessons for Botswana from a South African legal perspective states that, “Equality of opportunity and treatment in the workplace forms one of the critical components of an individual’s ability to obtain and remain in employment and occupation. In a world where qualifications, experience and individual merit can be easily by-passed owing to the diverse workplace discriminations, the ability of employees to enjoy their right to work cannot be fully achieved if the workplace is marred with inequalities. Sexual harassment has been characterised as one of the workplace hazards that impinges on the achievement and enjoyment of the right to equality of opportunity and treatment in the workplace and defeats the right of employees to decent work.”
In a growing feminist world, where we slay patriarchy on a daily basis and by our very existence, it would be amiss to ignore the fact that GBV in the workplace, does not only affect cisgender heterosexual women. It extends to women of marginalised sexualities and genders.
It goes without saying that unemployment is a constant and continuous problem amongst our youth, and perhaps an even graver problem amongst LBTQA young women. The general violent exclusion of non-cis-heteronormative persons in society and as well as systematically in various institutions, makes the community more vulnerable to abuse, harassment and discrimination, with particular emphasis on the workplace. As Mogapaesi puts it, the burden of the inequality makes it difficult for othered women and persons to obtain and remain in employment.
Persons of diverse and marginalised sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions excessively suffer violence from society. This violence spills over into the workplace, where they are unable to obtain or remain in work. This adds a layer to the discrimination in the workplace.
It must be emphasised that women do not only live and need protection and attention on the 16 days. This seems obvious but is so critical because everyone seems to care over the 16 days, and seem to care even more than usual.
The 16 days only highlight the lived struggles of women on a daily basis. It would be a crucial time for the country’s leadership to strategically let us know how it intends to address this growing problem, following the signing the treaty with the United Nations, in which it undertook to make concerted efforts to deal with GBV with a precise focus on the workplace, and with an emphasis on the prevention and strengthening of immediate response mechanisms to the challenges posed by the problem of GBV in the workplace.