For years, countries across the globe have been complaining about rising gender-based violence (GBV) cases including in Botswana. With all the campaigns against GBV, we thought 2021 would be better. However, it was no better than last year with rising murder and rape cases. Mmegi correspondent NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes
GBV is a great concern in the country as women and the girl child remain victims of men who continue abusing and violating them instead of loving and protecting them. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, which was accompanied by the national lockdowns, movement restrictions and curfews, the prevalence and incidents of GBV have increased. Cases of child rape, incest, violence and even passion killings escalated during the period. This is despite the country signing and formulating policies intended fight the GBV scourge, as implementation remains a challenge.
According to the Botswana Police Service (BPS) report, during the year 2020 GBV related crimes rose from 4,471 to 4,801 reported cases, which was 7.4 percent increase. The report states that there was a 23.3% increase in threat-to-kill cases, rising from 678 to 836 reported cases.
Though there was a 15.3% decrease in rape cases, from 2,265 to 1,919 reported cases, it states that there was an alarming increase in cases of defilement, which rose by 51.1%, with 1,825 reported cases as compared to 1,208 in the previous year. From January 1 to February 28, 2021, an alarming number of 196 rape cases were recorded.
According to 2018 National Relationship Study, one in three women in Botswana has experienced abuse in their lifetime.
The World Population Review (2019) places Botswana as the second highest country on rape cases at 92.9 per 100,000 citizens. BGBVC and WAR report stated that a total of 272 clients were provided with services during the pandemic period; where 155 came directly to the organisation to seek safe shelter, 67 were provided with counselling through hotline services and 50 were assisted through the short message service line.
Botswana also committed at the 2019 Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to reduce GBV from 37% to 20% for women and from 21% to 10% for men, which the Minister of Immigration, Nationality and Gender Affairs, Annah Mokgethi pointed out can only be achieved through effective implementation of the National Strategy Towards Ending GBV.
The statistics are devastating looking at how much has been done to sensitise the community about GBV. Community leaders (dikgosi), churches and other stakeholders have also joined the fight against GBV, which means that the awareness campaigns have reached marginalised groups.
Government together with different NGOs joined hands to fight and/or put in place laws and strategies that would help the fight against GBV. Men Sector Coordinator, Nonofo Leteane recently stated that violence against women and children kill and devastate families and communities worldwide. He added that attitudes that generate traditions of terror and encourage the use of violence as enshrined in patriarchy, negative masculinity and the entire negative socialisation process remain ever present.
“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. In our country it’s even worse; two in three women have experienced GBV. Therefore, ending violence in our communities is going to take all of us and it is critical that men and people of all genders are active participants and promoters of change to the current status quo,” he said.
When addressing Parliament recently, the Assistant Minister of Agriculture Development and Food Security called for immediate intervention from all stakeholders and every leader to fight against GBV.
She explained that the most common form of GBV in Botswana was intimate partner violence where it is mostly women who suffer from that form of GBV as most are at the mercy of their lovers and are dependent on such men for their needs.
However, she applauded the BPS for introducing actions such as Standard Opening Procedures (SOP) for handling GBV cases across all police stations, interviewing GBV victims in secluded rooms to ensure privacy and confidentiality and providing a conducive and comfortable atmosphere for victims.
Early this year, we saw the government increasing tariffs and this hard hit the community. As the cost of living rose, with some companies closing down due to COVID-19, women who are in abusive relationships found themselves stuck with no option but to depend on abusive breadwinners.
In these desperate economic times, women and young girls fall prey to abusive, sick men. This does not only affect GBV advocates’ attempt to fight this social but pose a threat of fighting against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
“We are in challenging times of COVID-19 where many people are out of work more especially women and young girls,” said GBV activist and GBV survivor, Malebogo Molefhe. She further explained that these are trying times more especially for women and girls in rural areas, as they do not have opportunities to fend for themselves and also lack information compared to those living in urban areas.
“Many of those women in rural areas rely on men to feed their families. Some find themselves in abusive relationships and are forced to stay in them because they depend on their perpetrators to take care of them and their children. In most cases, those women lack knowledge about GBV and do not have a say in their relationships,” she said.
“With the current economic inflation we see the increase risk of violence for those women and young girls who see themselves getting into relationships with old men or abusive partners because they need financial support.”
Gender Affairs minister, Anna Mokgethi said GBV continues to plague “our country and intimate partner violence has become one of the most challenging socio-cultural issues in contemporary Botswana”. She explained that women were no longer safe in their homes and on the streets. Mokgethi added that rape, abuse and sexual assault were rampant and often committed by those closest to victims and survivors. She said GBV impacts everyone, saying it exacts a heavy toll on relationships, families, communities, workplaces, schools, universities and colleges.
Reports from gender activists indicate GBV cases have increased dramatically since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions of movement.
The majority of these cases, however, go unreported as survivors are often silenced and thus end up suffering in silence.
In response to the rampant GBV, Botswana Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre (BGBVC) in partnership with Xavier Africa, Stepping Stones International Botswana (SSIB), Women Against Rape (WAR), and the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexual of Botswana (LEGABIBO) have designed an (Artificial Intelligence) AI-powered autonomous conversational agent (chatbox) on WhatsApp to help survivors get on-demand information, report abuse for evidence gathering and request psychosocial support.
Motheo Letshwiti from Xavier Botswana said the new tool allows survivors to be able to seek help while adhering to COVID-19 (health) protocols and offers a safe environment for them. He explained that with the continued advancement in technology partner NGOs leveraged AI and machine learning in the mission, to alleviate GBV in Botswana through collaborating with software developers to solve the issue at hand.
“The platform will be managed and monitored 24/7 by counsellors selected by the partner NGOs who will work around the clock to aid survivors who interact with the platform at any time of the day.”