Let me start by acknowledging the presence of the delegates, the Botswana National Front Women’s League (BNFWL) leadership, invited guests and other participants who have come to give support to this gathering.
The presence of male comrades in the conference is also acknowledged. Hopefully they will prepare the meals while you deliberate on the issues that affect women within and without the BNF.
The BNFWL should be commended for convening this conference. In the past, it has not been possible to do so as you only met for the elective congresses.
The theme- ‘Women’s involvement in politics, governance and the economy’ is relevant in the context of the challenges that women in the country continue to grapple with, 50 years after independence.
The BNF Constitution in its preamble talks about the struggle against all forms of discrimination, exploitation and oppression.
As we are also aware, Sixteen Days of Activism will be running from November 25 (International Day of No violence against Women) to December 10 (which is Human Rights Day). Gender Links has advocated for Sixteen Days for Life – 365 Days of Action for ending Gender Violence. Key dates in between include: December 1 (International Aids Day; December 3 (International Day of the Disabled) and December 6 (the Montreal Massacre). All these days being important in the struggle for women’s emancipation, calls for reflection and action.
Currently women and children in this country and around the world are still vulnerable and suffer abuse and exploitation at the hands of governments, institutions and individuals.
According to the World Economic Forum, moving at the 2017 rate, it would take 100 years to close the gap between men and women while looking at the 2016 pace it only required 83 years. As a society we should not underestimate the entrenched sexism and patriarchy that continues to characterise our dominant culture. We continue to have sexual violence and according to the UN, every third woman in the world will be exposed to serious violence at some time in her life.
Most cases of abuse occur in the home and are perpetrated by a husband, a partner or a close relative. Every fifth woman in the world will or has been exposed to rape or attempted rape, reports the UN.
These various expressions of violence against women are all rooted in the hegemonic unequal patriarchal power relations, where men assume the right to control women. Despite the widespread of this problem, it is given a shamefully low priority. In trying to resolve the issues around patriarchy, we need to go to the root causes.
Why is it that women have been historically and systematically marginalised in structures that have to do with distribution of power and resources? The nexus between race, class and gender should also not be excluded when inquiring about this issue.
We need to probe if the introduction of quotas is a solution as many argue. Although there is a consensus that quotas are necessary in the fight against this malice, there is however a point of disagreement about impact. Also, quotas should be accompanied and complemented by gender parity, gender equality, gender equity and gender sensitive policies thus ensuring gender mainstreaming in all sectors of society.
While some will argue that bringing down legal barriers is enough and will create an enabling environment for women to fully reach their aspirations, we believe that quotas in representation at all levels should be accompanied by a corresponding advancement or developments in promoting women participation in politics, in all sectors of the economy, in governance structures, in eradication of women abuse, dealing with engendered poverty and many other ills that continue to bedevil the womenfolk.
Head counting on its own without real gains in the quality of ordinary women’s lives is not sufficient. These interventions should also not be elitist but respond to all women particularly rural, uneducated and women at the margins of society.
We should of course not underplay the importance of quotas as they lay a firm foundation for allowing women to enter decision making chambers from within which it is expected that they can push for the overhaul of patriarchal policy formulation machinery. Inclusion should be seen as a means to an end and not be seen as an end in itself.
As we transform our society and bring down those structures that have marginalised women, we should not overlook the family. In it we find strong patriarchal gender relations. The family is an important centre of socialisation and the boy child and the girl child’s socialisation should not perpetuate a patriarchal society.
Over the years women have been impoverished due to the patriarchal nature of our society with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party government policies worsening their situation.
Reduction in social spending by governments as a result of neo-liberal policies has worsened the positions of most women, as it is women who are largely responsible for social production in societies. This is not assisted by the fact that most of those in the informal, casual and atypical labour are women. This state of affairs affects them as both labourers in production and caregivers in the home. Society and Business continues to accrue huge benefits from unpaid labour, which is mostly undertaken by women.
Some employers choose to employ men, as they won’t take time off to attend to their children. It is through the consistent and unwavering agitation on the part of the BNF that today women in Botswana (as the principal carers and child bearers) are compensated for taking time off to care for children in the form of maternity leave.
As we celebrate this achievement, which was championed by the opposition and has always been the voice of the downtrodden, we need to look into other areas where women as centres of production and reproduction are not compensated.
Our failure to reward them properly will not remove women from poverty and abuse, which they suffer from as a result of their weak undesirable economic position.
Capitalism as a system of accumulation and other injustices have to be challenged as it is no longer sensible to speak of gender equality and quotas only without linking them to exploitation.
Though patriarchy has been blamed for the situation in which we find women, it cannot be singularly blamed for this scenario. Patriarchy also intersects with other identities like class and race.
When we eschew universalism, we will notice that women may define themselves in many other ways outside their gender. Having a large number of women in positions of power therefore does not necessarily mean that we would have rid society of patriarchy and its impacts. The question that follows is whose interests do they serve? Can we boldly say that their background, e.g. class, race and ethnicity do not influence their outlook and performance in their roles. The question that then follows is, does it necessarily follow that having a woman in leadership position will transform the situation of women?
We have seen some people arguing for greater women representation just because they want to personally benefit from the resultant appointments. The notion that women are better guarantors of other women’s rights is shallow and more on the fallacious side. In fact certain women are regrettably more patriarchal than some men.
Of course representation of women is necessary and should not be open to debate. It is more of a tool for reform in the current gender insensitive capitalist society. Properly instituted gender parity can provide solid bedrock from which substantive liberation of women can be advanced. We should have a gendered perspective which is not blind to class and ethnicity. The BNFWL should engage in projects that help in assisting the women in this country. We need to go beyond theory and undertake projects that impact directly on the people that we seek to liberate. One such project is the distribution of free sanitary pads. Some of the brightest minds have left the school system because of failure to access proper menstrual hygiene and the stigma associated with it. It is acknowledged that education assists in reducing poverty levels in society, as it is the educated that have better opportunities in life.
Women should also take the question of solidarity seriously. We should hear your voice on the challenges faced by women in eSwatini where there is no democracy; we should hear your voice on the women’s situation in Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony; your voice should be heard regarding the horrific environment in which women live under in Palestine. The global situation of women is acknowledged in United Nations meetings of Rio de Janeiro (1970), Copenhagen (1975), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995). These gatherings reaffirmed women’s persistent exclusion from formal politics and raised questions regarding the achievement of effective democratic transformation, in practice.
The negative impact on the entire process of democratisation is exposed as well as the democratic institutions, including Parliament. The need for such institutions to put in place special measures in order to achieve gender equality and equity at the level of representation, policy agenda setting and accountability remains fundamental.
As the Beijing platform for Action suggested, women’s equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for justice or democracy, but also a necessary condition for women’s interest to be taken into account. Without the perspective of women at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality and peace cannot be achieved.
As the BNF we propose that we introduce a hybrid electoral system to ensure that more women are put in to both Parliament and council. The current system has not helped us put more women in both Parliament and councils. Considering a percentage of proportional representation where parties are compelled by Law to include women is critical. Our electoral system is therefore broken when it comes to ensuing a gender balance in terms of representation and needs to be fixed.
*Moeti Mohwasa is the BNF secretary general. He was addressing the party’s Women’s League conference last Saturday in Tonota