Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting and moderating a Zoom session where I engaged with phenomenal Batswana who are keen on dealing with gender-based violence (GBV) in Botswana. This engagement was suggested and initiated by journalist, Pamela Dube Kelepang.
The meeting was attended by a diverse group of individuals, which facilitated a stimulating discussion. The diversity is in recognition of the complexity of the issue and the need for a comprehensive approach that can be made possible through bringing together people from all walks of life. We kicked off with the contextual background on GBV from Dr Portia Loeto who is a Gender Studies lecturer at the University of Botswana. Dr Loeto started by giving crucial background that GBV is a result of patriarchy and the power it bestows upon men. We live in a patriarchal world, and this means a lot of things. Let us start by understanding that “patriarchy is a social structure and legitimating ideology in which men have more power and privilege than women; according to feminist ideology, patriarchy is the main source of violence such as rape, battering, and murder against women in contemporary society.” (Smith, 1990). The nucleus of patriarchy is power and control, which is compounded by ways in which men and women are seen and perceived in relation to one another. Patriarchy infantilises women. Sexist and misogynistic attitudes of male entitlement over female bodies, space and time are the actual problem that we need to dissect and dismantle if we are to understand and combat the scourge of GBV in Botswana.
As a social construct, gender comprises the socialisation as well as the internalised dispositions of what it means to be a woman or a man: it says to us that men and women hold different social positions. These positions infantilise women and are often perpetuated and entrenched by ideological state apparatuses such as our culture(s), the family, religion, education systems, the media, the State and others.
From this background therefore, GBV is a power and control issue and as defined succinctly by UNHCR, “Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms.” It must also be noted that GBV is also meted out against gender-nonconforming individuals of the LGBTQIA+ community as seen by the homophobia and transphobia in Botswana. With recent evidence putting Botswana as the number one rape capital in the world, these men and women are concerned and keen to figure out: 1. How we got here, including all the factors influencing (perpetuating) rape and violence in Botswana. 2. What can we do as a country to change this? 3. What laws and policies do we have in place to assist with the fight against GBV? On this we had our lovely sister Patience Batshogile, a practising lawyer and social justice activist presenting the proposed Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2021, followed by a very insightful dialogue particularly relating to the proposed sentences. The amendment seeks to enhance penalties related to sexual assault offences. The introduction of more stringent penalties begs the question whether any consideration went into the effectiveness of sentencing, particularly long term incarceration, as a deterrent and/or rehabilitation measure. The existing laws already set maximum sentencing at life imprisonment in certain instances, hence the question whether intensifying penalties in and of itself would yield desired results.
Criminalisation of false sexual allegations is a welcome development and the hope is that it will deter mischievous claims driven solely by malice. Of primary concern though is the lack of stringent penalties relative to the offence. Persons convicted of the offence face possible suspended sentences, seemingly a slap on the wrist. In comparison to the offence of cat-calling or harassment through whistling at or screaming at a person passing by the road, which carries a weightier sentence, it seems the false sexual allegations offence still needs more consideration, especially that victims of this offence themselves suffer emotional trauma as well as loss of opportunities.
The legislative efforts to tighten the screws in order to combat the GBV pandemic do not however go unnoticed and do reflect society’s desire to uproot the scourge that is GBV and hopefully deal with violence in general.
We had in our midst journalists working on compiling GBV statistics for the purposes of reporting, and a snapshot from 2020 figures for Francistown painted a very dire situation. We agreed that it would be helpful to get figures for the whole country for a more comprehensive picture. It is evident that our information management systems could be better organised to ensure we have all our data in accessible platforms. 4. One interesting question posed relates to the non-consensual removal of a condom during intercourse, otherwise known as “stealthing”. Is it recognised as a violation of consent and could it be categorised as rape? 5. Another interesting question put forward; do these punitive measures work in mitigating rape and other forms of GBV? Are we getting the desired impact? We know that our sentence for murder carries the death penalty. We need to look at data on femicides to determine whether the sentence has deterred people from killing their partners. This led to the question; Do we have effective interventions for GBV? 6. Although much of the discussion focused on the amendment Bill, participants cautioned that the law is on the far end of the issue. That perhaps we ought to interrogate preventative measures at the community level, which depends primarily on understanding the evidence on rape. We had to face the hard reality that we appear to be a violent nation. This was linked to the evidence from the world happiness report which suggests we are an unhappy nation, hence deliberations on...Where do we channel this unhappiness? Could this be the reason for our increased figures on rape and other forms of GBV? 7. There was a concern regarding how allegations of defilement are handled. As an example one participant mentioned a situation where a teacher was alleged violating a student, and the same teacher had been moved from a previous school with similar allegations. The question therefore is, since we have a sex offenders registry Act, how do employers utilise it to ensure that vulnerable people are protected?
We will continue to engage and tease out these issues...look out for our next session in the next
Iris Penny Mosweu*
Health economist,London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine