GBV worries political parties

First lady Neo Masisi holding a plaque during a GBV awareness campaign PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
First lady Neo Masisi holding a plaque during a GBV awareness campaign PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG

Since the advent of politics in Botswana, some political activists-from the lowest structure of the cell to the presidency-across the political spectrum have been embroiled in sexual misconduct scandals. The latest big fish to be caught in this web is the president of Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), Biggie Butale. Mmegi Correspondent LEBOGANG MOSIKARE argues that it’s high time local political parties adopt sexual harassment policies within their systems

FRANCISTOWN: In most democratic countries, all political movements subscribe to the notion that all people have the right to be treated with dignity and respect and not be subject of sexual misconduct, harassment, or discrimination of any kind.

This can be either in the public, workplaces, voluntary organisations and even in progressive political parties among other areas.

In the United Kingdom (UK), the Parliament of UK (Westminster) has adopted a Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure that aims to ensure that all people holding positions of authority are aware of their responsibilities in relation to sexual misconduct.

It also strives to provide a fair transparent and consistent approach for reporting, investigating and responding to allegations of sexual misconduct and provide information about sources of support available to to anyone who experiences sexual misconduct or who is accused of sexual misconduct.

The UK policy and even in the United States of America (US) has led to a number of legislators to resign from their positions whenever they are rocked by sexual scandals.

Even in neighbouring South Africa in 2019, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), rushed to finalise its internal sexual harassment policy amid sex scandals that rocked two of its senior cadres, according to news24.

In the aftermath of those allegations, the ANC gave itself a time scale of 90 days to have implemented and adopted a sexual misconduct policy after it carried internal investigations regarding the allegations.

Said the ANC’s acting spokesperson Dakota Legoete then: "The African National Congress has embarked on a process to finalise and implement a sexual harassment policy for all its employees across the country. The development of this policy is a consequence of an internal process where an employee laid a grievance of sexual harassment against her supervisor...”

Legoete added: “"This approach is premised on the acknowledgement that the manner in which the ANC, both as leader of society and a governing party, deals with sexual harassment in its internal environment is a public interest issue. Consequently, we invite members of the public to comment on the ANC's draft sexual harassment policy."

However, in Botswana no political leader in any capacity has voluntarily resigned from their positions amid sexual misconduct allegations.

In the Butale saga which involves a young woman activist, the BPF advised Butale-who has not been formally charged with any sexual offence-to step down from his position on moral and ethical grounds but Butale has paid no heed to that advise.

Experts in gender issues and politics point out that Botswana’s patriarch systems has fostered a culture in which men hold the power over women who are largely excluded from decision making processes.

This patriarch system has pervaded the family unit, the experts say.

The pundits add that it has entrenched itself even in the political arena were its hallmarks are visible hence the current alarming cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Botswana, especially sexual offences that mostly affect women and the girl child, are not surprising.

It is also a well-known fact that in some situations, these cases, just like in the Butale controversy, are not reported to the police for various reasons.

A political scientist from Rutgers University in the US whose research interests are gender and politics (violence against women in politics) and political institutions, professor Mona Lena Krook, said that at the end of 2017, millions of women used the #MeToo hashtag to draw attention to widespread sexual harassment and assault around the world.

“In British politics, female politicians, staff members, and journalists opened up about their own experiences, provoking the resignation and party suspension of a number of male Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament,” says Krook.

She argues that sexual harassment should be understood as a systemic, cultural problem, rather than a question of problematic individuals.

“Ignoring the issue of sexual harassment in politics, has serious consequences for gender equality as well as for democracy itself, reducing policy effectiveness, distorting the political pipeline, and diminishing political transparency and accountability,” Krook posits.

The Coordinator of WAR-a human rights organisation based in Maun- Peggie Ramaphane advises political parties in Botswana, not necessarily the BPF, to enact sexual misconduct policies within their movements in order to stem the tide of GBV.

She said: “...The BPF as an organisation is expected to have a code of conduct that includes an anti sexual harassment policy that should stipulate how members should behave towards one another and towards customers to respect and uphold their human dignity and body autonomy.”

There should be guidelines on what support is available for those experiencing sexual harassment within the structures of the BPF and detail the steps to be taken if one feels sexually harassed or abused, Ramaphane explained.

She added: “The steps should include action to take, how to report and to whom, investigations and sanctions if found guilty and what support is there from the organisation for its members who are so violated. The complainant should be given options of where to report if the incident happened outside the confines of the BPF - report to the police or support organisations that can accompany her to the police for reporting.”

As a consenting adult, Ramaphane noted, the woman would be provided with the information on how and where to report and offered support, if needed,to go and report to the police.

“There are numerous reasons why women do not report sexual harassment and abuse (fear of revictimisation, fear of being blamed, fear of not being believed, shame, amongst others) and victims need support from family, friends, community and the support service departments. It is important for the victim to feel heard and supported,” Ramaphane said.

The first person that the woman told bears a great responsibility to believe her and support her through the stages acknowledging what has happened and being there to accompany her to report so that justice prevails, Ramaphane continued.

Ramaphane added: “The woman should have been given the necessary and relevant information with regards to care for victims of sexual and gender based violence to enable her to make informed decisions for herself to access health, justice and social services. The BPF could have provided her with this information or referred her to organisations that could assist her or referred her to government social workers.”

The Secretary General of Botswana National Front (BNF) Moeti Mohwasa said the BNF welcomes the idea of having a code of conduct that regulates the conduct of those holding positions of influence at every level within the party.

Mohwasa said: “There is a need for a code of conduct for those who are in positions of authority, either materially or by rank, particularly in the light of the rise in cases of sexual violence. Such a policy should be gender neutral and protect both the victims and the perpetrators. As a society we do not react to problems until they become deleterious, which is exactly why where we are.”

Mohwasa added: “The cases of gender based violence are on the rise daily. The obvious victims, who dominate the numbers, happen to be the vulnerable, weak and the less endowed members of society. So something needs to be done as a matter of urgency.”

Mohwasa’ sentiments are echoed by the vice president of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang.

“The BCP has a Code of Conduct for leaders. However we are in the process of revising the policy to adequately address issues of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and Gender Based Violence (GBV). When it is finalised vetting criteria will incorporate these critical elements of conduct by potential elected representatives. Educating male comrades and empowering women comrades will form an important component of the Revised Code of Conduct,” said Gobotswang who is also a legislator for the Sefhare-Ramokgonami constituency.

When asked about the position of the BDP concerning the issue, the publicity secretary of BDP Kagelelo Kentse said: “You will be aware that the issue of sexual misconduct is interconnected with issues relating to GBV. As a governing party we have made very good strides in response to GBV issues including forming an interministerial committee that will look into GBV. There are also special courts setup to deal with such cases.”

This, Kentse noted, shows commitment in addressing this critical issue.

“It is our hope that now that the issue is being dealt with that way at government level, the party will equally discuss extensively and hopefully develop a policy around sexual misconduct. The WW has been steadfast in talking against and campaigning against such.”

Kentse added: “ We therefore believe that at our next National Council (which discusses party policies) the party structures will raise this as a matter of interest by the BDP and hopefully pass a resolution on that. The policy will therefore answer all of your three questions as it will provide guidance on awareness, handling of such cases within the party and remedial action.”

Contacted about the issue, the vice president of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi, said political parties are movements that are made up of people from different backgrounds.

Mmolotsi however, said that issues of intimacy among party cadres are private matters that are difficult for the party to regulate.

He added that the matters become a problem if there is no consent.

“This also becomes a problem if one of party cadres who is married cheats his/her spouse with a party member. Ancillary opportunistic things happen within political parties. People should be guided by the country’s laws concerning sexual misconduct matters,” said Mmolotsi.

Lawrence Ookeditse, spokesperson of BPF said: “It is important that we have such policies and leaders themselves be aware of what constitutes what. This is not to say leaders need to be taught what constitutes harassment. When you avail yourself to lead you should know what is expected of you. Such policies would protect both leaders, party members and society as a whole.”

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