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Women’s Agenda, All Talk No Action

PAMELA DUBE KELEPANG
Friday March 8, marked the international women’s day. The day - not be confused with August 9, the South African women’s day – is commemorated the world over to observe and celebrate women’s contribution to the political and socio-economic agenda.

It was first celebrated in Russia and America, in 1909, when the socialist movement pushed for attainment of gender equality.

The day is a public holiday in developed countries, but ignored in many developing economies, including our own. Here we talk, on the day and unless some gender conscious organisation hosts something, to prick the nation’s memory, it is business as usual. While in the past, the Ministers responsible for Gender Affairs, would issue a statement, or deliver one at an event, this year, Minister Ngaka Ngaka was mute. It is not surprising though; I would avoid speaking publicly on matters pertaining to gender activism, if I sit in a position that required me to take a strong stand and lead by example on issues such as gender based violence, when I was known perpetrator. It will be recalled that President Mokgweetsi Masisi who has declared his intention to fight gender based violence, broke the promise when he appointed Ngaka late last year, a man with a publicised history of wife battering. A petition to the President to reverse the appointment has been ignored and GBV continues unabated.

Sadly, the cases of abuse of women, and children, continue to rise. Rape, defilement, femicide and murder have become so common, that few get shocked at statistics. There is numbness, even when a psycho walks into a respected public space, Molepolole kgotla, pulls out a knife and stabs a woman to death in the full glare of colleagues and the public, walks back into his car and drives off.

There are no surprises when it is reported that the killer was on bail out for murder and has served a seven-year sentence before for another murder case. We are not surprised, because GBV is now normalised, and the shock and the outrage of the past, is slowly disserting us. How can we rise, when our leaders are all talk and no action? We have an administration today, which says one thing and acts the other way; Minister Ngaka is a clear case in point.As the world celebrated the emancipation of women, in different spheres of life, here, we still have to beg to be included.

When the gender movement was at its most active, in the 1990s and early 2000s, during the administration of Festus Mogae, women could rise and be counted. In the public sector, there were women occupying high positions such as then Attorney General Dr Athalia Molokomme, and the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Linah Mohohlo, among others. When election to Parliament and councils was still a challenge for

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women, Rre Mogae in his wisdom, reserved all the four seats of Specially Elected Members of Parliament to women, and ensured that they were also ensured all women MPs were in Cabinet. In councils the Ministers responsible were encouraged to practice positive discrimination. These were not window dressers.

They were appointed on merit. While not the most ideal, these appointments brought hope that young women could see themselves in political leadership, and thus work hard to move out of the political party choirs and cooking fires, to occupy the high table. Even Dr Margaret Nasha, then the Speaker of Parliament, could express a dream of one day assuming the highest seat in the land, the Presidency. Now Mme Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi could just be shouting in the dark in her bid for the Botswana Democratic Party presidency. 

The dream was killed and the fire extinguished in the last decade. We are back to Parliament where women’s voices are as inaudible as is their numbers. While countries as Rwanda, Tanzania talk of almost equal number of representation of genders in the houses of legislation, we are at five against 53 men.

The percentage is no better in the councils around the country.  As we go for our 12th general election in October, women candidates across the parties are fewer than the recent past. The same applies in the civil service, parastatals and multi-national corporations.

As those women who occupied positions of power, retire, very few, if none, are stepping up. Even in our noble profession, the media, women in management positions are diminishing. Just as with political leaders, it’s all talk and no action. Last Wednesday, when we were launching the African Media Barometer, I was taken aback when I realised that there in the report, we talk of these gender disparities, but the day’s agenda had no single woman.

The five speakers, and the director of ceremony, were all men. This is the report which of the 11 panel members who participated, four were women, and as were the moderator and the rapporteur. So none of the six women, who included a university lecturer, media trainer, editor and gender activist – all known public speakers – could not be trusted to speak to their work? Then of course we had on the programme leaders of different media institutions, MISA-Botswana, Editors’ Forum and Botswana Media And Allied Workers’ Union, all men. It was then that I realised, us, the media had no moral ground to speak on this subject matter. We are as guilty of lip service as our political leaders.



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