On August 14, 2020, Yandani Candy Boko, Member of Parliament for Mahalapye East motioned that the Assembly resolve to incline the president of Botswana, to establish a Commission of Inquiry on “gender-based violence, rape, other sexual offences as a matter of urgency”.
To the nation’s shock and bewilderment, the Member of Parliament for Gaborone Bonnington, and Minister of Nationality Immigration and Gender Affairs has, was one of the people who opposed this motion by Boko, suggesting instead that it be addressed a week later.
For context, it is important to note the background against which Boko’s proposal was made. In an online petition prepared by local activists, for Annah Mokgethi to resign as a Minister if Gender Affairs for having failed women, the background is set as follows. Globally Botswana has the second worst rape statistics, surpassed only by rape nation, South Africa.
On average, in the country with a population of just under 2.3million, six women are raped on a daily basis, with rape victims ages ranging between 6months and 85years old. Undoubtedly, any person who has the range of understanding the extent of the sexual violence problem, as the minister heading up a gender affairs department should, would appreciate the crisis this presents, and therefore the urgency with which it has to be addressed.
One of the most urgent issues the world over, is gender-based violence. It is one of the most brutal and at the same time one of the most shameful human rights violations. It is the most pervasive human rights violation, and dealing with it, is central to the achievement of any nation’s development goals, and at global level, it is central to the achievement of the sustainable development goals on women’s empowerment and gender equality. It is a peace and security issue, as well as a critical concern on ending poverty, on ending child mortality and reducing maternal health, which are encapsulated in the goals.
The above has been admitted by various institutions, at global level. In Botswana, in various forums, our leadership have expressed concern at the growing rate of abuse of women and children, and have captured the concerns in the national development vision, provision for gender equality and empowerment of women. That notwithstanding, there is little investment in prevention and in services for survivors remain inadequate.
The urgency of finding out what can be done to more effectively and adequately respond to violence against women and children is brought about by a number of factors.
Not the least of these is that women continue to lose their lives n violent deaths, directly through homicide and indirectly through suicide, and maternal mortality amongst many others.
This column has previously suggested that gender-based violence does not just affect a nation at social level, or even just at health level. It affects various other facets of our
Of course, the broader social costs are much more difficult to quantify, without concerted efforts towards so doing. Constraining poverty reduction, violence against women limits the extents to which women can take part in productive employment.
It also undermines efforts to improve women’s access to education. In many instances, young girls who have been molested and defiled, need time to recover from the physical wounds. In many other instances, they are forced to drop out of school as a result of pregnancy.
In these instances, and many others, returning to school is often near impossible. Further, the fear of further and future violence greatly contribute to lower school re-enrollment for girls. Domestic violence also greatly affects the welfare and education of children in a family.
This growing understanding of the wide impacts of violence needs to be translated into national priorities. There have been very many efforts in response to gender-based violence ranging from trainings of judiciary, to grassroots engagements with communities at kgotlas; academic researches in efforts to theorise the extent of the problem, and to consider targeted solutions; there has even been programing aimed at school learners, to work towards shifted mindsets.
All these efforts have been made, yet gender-based violence continues to be a tremendous problem.
In fact, it is arguably becoming an even bigger problem with accused sexual abusers able to proudly stand in parliament and represent their constituencies, and women leaders advocating for the stalling of urgent measures in response to gender-based violence. Of course, the approach of the commission can be addressed once it has been determined that it is a necessary effort by government.
It would completely be undesirable to duplicate efforts. Many organisations including have done extensive work on gender-based violence, including research on the gaps and how they can be filled.
The missing link, is an honest reflection on why all these efforts have been insufficient and inadequate, and why, in fact gender-based violence continues to steadily rise in this our beloved country.
That gender-based violence needs urgent response, is completely unquestionable.
What that response will look like, is an issue which should effectively be designed with the leadership of the relevant minister. A minister however, who argues against the glaring urgency of her mandate, is one whose position need to be urgently vacated, to make way for leadership who not only claims to have an understanding, but who can actually take effective action.