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Is Botswana a gender inclusive state?

Botswana ParliamentPIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
From the lens of peace and security, gender violence or gender inequality is simply gender insecurity.

Characteristically, violence is a deprivation of security and an expression of power against the vulnerable. Gender Based Violence (GBV) is an expression of unequal gender relations. When presenting a motion on GBV, Yandani Boko pleaded the need for urgency as the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenge of GBV bringing the problem sharper into focus’. Forlornly, it seemed his cry landed on a sweet-bitter terrain as the motion was deemed important but not urgent. Any deferment in dealing with violence is a deferment in dealing with insecurity.

To paraphrase, ‘gender security delayed is gender security denied’. Any display of political ill will is a display of structural violence- violence as a result of unequal economic, social and political relations perpetrated by the machinery of the State.  The post 2015 development agenda as clearly espoused in the sustainable development goals seeks to ‘strengthen universal peace in larger freedom’ and any exclusion of gender renders the efforts counterproductive.

To further explore this issue, this treatise explores an inter-linkage between goals no.5 and no.16. Goal no.5 is ‘to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ and SDG 16 is  ’to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice  for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’. The UN Systems Task Team UN Development Agenda (2012) provide linkages on gender, violence and peace and a paper by Saferworld and Conclliation Resources pays particular attention to the relationship between gender, violence and inclusive decision making. For the purposes of determining whether Botswana is gender inclusive, it is inevitable to link gender violence with peace and security.

The argument is that the sustainable development agenda is premised on the peace as an enabling factor in ensuring freedom from fear and violence. Inclusion is a key factor in sustaining durable peace and build resilience and as such gender inclusiveness deters violence and insecurity.

Of all the accolades the country has earned as peaceful, gender based violence reverses such gains. Violence in general reverses Botswana’s efforts in both negative and positive peace. The Gender Based Violence Indicators Study (2012),  by the then Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Gender Links reveals that ‘67% of women in Botswana have experienced some form of gender violence with a 44% of men admitting to perpetrating violence against women’ , the 67% is almost double the global figure of 35%. Worrisome enough is the fact that the prevalence of GBV reported in the survey is 24 times higher than reported to the police.

Moreover, the same organisations mentioned above published a study in 2019 on ’National Relationships’ showing that 98% of rape cases are not reported and 5% of women are raped by those they are in relationships with. GBV related crimes (murder,threat to kill, rape, defilement as reported to the police are increasing more especially during lockdown. Although the country has consolidated a relatively impeccable peace record, the Global Peace Index (GPI) reveals that the cost of violence in Botswana has reached crises proportions. This is exacerbated particularly by gender based violence. According to GPI 2020 as conducted by the Institute of Economics & Peace (IEP), Botswana is among the top 30 countries out of 163 in the world with the highest economic cost of violence- economic cost of violence in Botswana is equivalent to 10% of Botswana’s GDP.  This is to be precise, a cost that is not budgeted  for and a nuisance to prudent political and economic policy. Countries with low peace rankings have a lesser cost - Nigeria ranks no. 147/163 in peace ranking and Iran ranks no. 142/163 but their economic costs stand at 8% and 5% respectively. The money used on containing violence could be used on more productive causes.

To establish or interrogate issues of inclusiveness and whether the state serves as an enabler or barrier to gender security, it is imperative to first assess structures and processes (equal rights, opportunities and treatment) necessary for inclusive societies. By creating limitations and boundaries (by way of deferment, policy or law) and yet advocating for gender security/equality, the state becomes a barrier.

On the contrary, a state that allows for dialogue, robust policy and legislative inclusion is by far an enable or champion of gender equality and security. Government as a means in which the state operates is tasked with the mammoth task to level the playing field. The gender equality gap give birth to conflict and competition for survival (resources/opportunities, rights and treatment) and provides a violent playing field.  This according to Charles Darwin educes the urge to survive and those unfit are reduced to a lesser being and thrown to the perils of violence and insecurity.  In an attempt to

express will, the government has over the years intervened through laws and policies.

The Penal Code(Amendment) Act 5 0f 1998 made provisions for rape as gender sensitive and increased jail term for rape perpetrators. In 1998, a study commissioned by government on the socioeconomic implications of violence against women was carried out and a result the Domestic Violent Act no. 10 0f 2008 was born out of such fruitful interventions.

Other interventions include National Policy on gender and development and National Gender Based Violence Strategy 2015-2020, men’s sector established in the Ministry and 16 days of activism to end Gender Based Violence.  However, today’s gender challenges are worsening as processes and actors evolve and as such new unconventional methods and interventions are required. President Masisi asserts and acknowledges  that ‘as a nation we can no longer ignore the fact that gender-based violence has stretched its devastating tentacles across the country’. (Daily News, 10 Jan 2019).

As a result, the President and his party responded with a manifesto that promises an inclusive government premised on consultation and equality for all. Is this mere rhetoric?  To assess whether it is mere oration, it is necessary to investigate what the government is doing differently of present considering the problem escalation due to Covid-19. Laws and policies are in place and the problem is still worsening.  Yandani Boko further argues that the statistics more especially durng COVID 19 induces a sense of shock. It should cause panic and we should act on it.

He furthered decried that ‘the statistics show that the laws and other strategies currently in place are not effective. This problem has reached crises level…and a multi -disciplinary commission across all stakeholders is the only effective way forward.’ Re-affirming and considering what Boko has expressed, laws and policies are not enough.

Then what is enough? This brings us to one of the most important enablers of inclusiveness- effective, accountable and inclusive institutions to manage gender insecurity or gender based violence. There are certain institutions fundamental in the GBV fight including the ministry responsible for gender, police, community leaders, parliament, trade unions, civil society in general and a gender sensitive media. Government has over the years tried to intensify the fight against GBV by training police focal persons and community leaders like Dikgosi.

Government cannot solely thrive in the fight against GBV. Government is supposed to be a ‘facilitator not a dictator’ and as such should work harmoniously with non-state actors  in a more inclusive manner. Moreover, for the state-society relations to bear more fruits, there is need for the availability of resources. This is a big challenge because civil society organisations in the GBV fight lack funds and consequently shut doors.

This is evident in women shelters and other gender based violence support services closed due to lack of resources while the problem is increasingly becoming a threat to peace and security. Access to justice is also a big challenge because the courts are overwhelmed. Furthermore, lack of information legislation is a hindrance to protection and empowerment.

One of the hindrances to a Botswana becoming an open government is lack of publicised laws and government data, right to information and a problem with complaint mechanisms. This is captured by the well revered rule of law index by the World Justice Report. There is need to restructure government in terms of positions of power and authority to curb gender bias. This attempt for power balances has potential to break the cycle of violence. Many women and men (more especially young men)are unable to make good decisions because of their situations making them victims of violence. It is either they have less bargaining power or they bargain from a weaker position making them vulnerable to forced prostitution and staying unwarrantedly in violent relationships or families. Initiatives like early childhood intervention programs, evidence based behavioural interventions and demographic analysis to break environmental gaps/deficits are highly necessary. In dealing with gender based violence, there is need for development initiatives that are more corrective than punitive.

Measures like National Suicide Prevention Strategy are long overdue. People kill their partners and choose the easy way out- kill the partner and hang oneself and this exacerbates the victim-perpetrator cycle. As such the state is left with no choice but to decentralise power from office chairs to people on the ground.

From a peace and security viewpoint, both the victim and perpetrator are supposed to be reintegrated through a strong support system provided not merely by strongmen but strong, accountable and inclusive institutions. Ultimately, two questions arise from this discourse. Is the government a barrier or an enabler of gender security? Is Botswana a gender inclusive state? You decide.

*Khumoetsile Kgosidialwa is a social commentator

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