A lot of efforts have been made by the country towards addressing gender-based violence (GBV) in Botswana.
These efforts have dealt with GBV as a matter in the public domain, defining harassment and its power dynamics, particularly in the workplace, as well as extending ‘indecent assault’ to include harassment in other locations beyond the workplace.
Botswana has made attempts to address GBV in private, through the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, as well as its regulations. All these however, have not advanced Botswana’s fight against the national problem of GBV. In fact, what has been noted is that GBV incidences have steadily increased.
Previously, it was suggested, on this column that one of the ways in which GBV can be prevented, is not per se through the enactment of laws and regulatory policies. To prevent GBV adequately, as was written, there is need to create a society that is not wounded and broken.
This will need a great deal of psychosocial support, the acknowledgment of the ills of a patriarchal system, its dismantling, and a shift in power dynamics, as well as the communication of said power. This would call for reformation of various systems and structures, including normative cultural practices, which are used to reinforce patriarchy.
The reality, however, is that at a national level, the impact of the work on prevention has been very minimal. This is critical and vital work; and perhaps its indivisibility from GBV response, in the way that GBV is usually addressed is in itself as factor to this end.
This is of course something to be explored more comprehensively, regard had to factors that influence response, at individual level for the different people affected by GBV, as well as at family level, and community level.
This will assist in more adequate and well thought through measures aimed specifically at prevention.
On the other side of this, is the area of response to GBV incidences, once they have occurred. Realistically, this has had its impact, although only to a certain extent. This piece briefly explores one of the gaps in Botswana communities, in responding to GBV.
By way of distinction, prevention is usually aimed at the circumvention or avoidance of an incident. Response on the other hand is aimed at addressing what action is to be taken once it has been established that an incidence has indeed taken place.
There are many elements towards GBV response that come together to create an effective response system. Botswana has done a lot of work toward building this system, and continues to build towards empowering the various stakeholders, by way of capacitating them to carry out their various roles.
This is at the very beginning stages, with still very few incidences of violence being reported, and high levels of withdrawals of reported cases, as is reflected in the 2018 Botswana Relationship Study.
A limitation in our system, that makes it difficult to respond to GBV adequately enough to encourage victims and survivors to report and retain matters that have been reported, may be the lack of infrastructure. Infrastructure, in this sense, refers to shelters and other places of safety.
Botswana has known shelters in Gaborone and Maun. These are reflected in the published Relationship Study of 2018. The capacity of each of these shelters is limited to the number of spaces they can accommodate, as well as the decreasing space of civil society, caused primarily by lack of funding towards certain causes.
Often, survivors worry about a place to seek shelter from, if they are to consider running away from a place they have made a home of, or even if they are to vacate their own home, where the perpetrator knows them to live in. This usually internal interrogation often leads to remaining in toxic relationships.
In many other places, people run to their tribal or community leaders to seek assistance. The problem with this is that often, the places where they seek safety from are themselves not always secure for the victim or survivor.
In other cases, survivors either escape to police stations, or are referred there by whichever leader they may have approached for assistance.
In cases where the perpetrator cannot be located, or is not found, the victim, or survivor is often left with few other options where they live away from family and friends, or where they find themselves isolated or alienated from their support structures.
Of course, perpetrators successfully alienate many survivors by manipulating them into believing that they are not cared for, or supported by anybody else, who would usually form part of their support structure or family.
One of the options that if usually availed to survivors is to spend a night in a police cell, for their own safety, at least until the perpetrator has been located. The heart behind this is pure: it is a temporary means by which a person whose life, or health is at risk is in need of support.
The reality however is another matter. Cells in their nature, are not created to be places of comfort or solace. Those who have been in them describe them as uncomfortable and even traumatising to an extent.
Effectively, a cell would reinforce the alienation that a victim or survivor is manipulated into believing is prevalent their life. In addition to this, it retraumatises the victim/survivor.
There are many alternative measures that can be taken to address these challenges. One of which is inevitably, government establishing shelters in all districts in the country, to support the already existing structures. This is critical to establish government’s commitment to adequately respond to GBV and other violence.
Shelters have been very effective in many jurisdictions including our own. Their need, in the current state of affairs, is undeniable. In conclusion therefore, it is hoped that government could consider this, and prioritise it, in alignment with various undertakings it has made to dealing with GBV when it has occurred.