Botswana is a member to the African Union (AU), which is the successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was established with a Pan-African view to essentially rid the continent of colonialism, encourage international principles of State sovereignty and equality of States, and Africa’s political participation in international and more particularly regional affairs.
The idea behind pan-Africanism is that people of African descent, no matter where they might be in the world (meaning even those not in the continent), have common concerns and interests, and there is a need to, with unified efforts, ensure the preservation of the liberation of the continent. It’s the idea that Africa should be for Africans. It is also the acknowledgment of the complexities of blackness, be it considered from a political perspective, intellectual ideology, or her social anxieties. The AU, having introspected and perhaps feeling the pressure of the people of the continent, decided that there is indeed an inherent need to enact a mechanism or an agreement which would specifically ensure the rights of the people of Africa.
The agreement is also intended to hold each State accountable for the protection and enforcement of the rights of the people in it. This agreement is called the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The agreement is more often referred to as the Charter, but will be kept as an agreement for purposes of this article. Botswana is one of the States that has agreed to be bound by the Charter, which was adopted in 1981. In the Charter, Article 18 provides that each State shall ensure the elimination of discrimination against women. It doesn’t really expound on this right though, and in fact the rest of the article speaks more to the rights of family. In 2003, the African Commission, applying other provisions in the Charter, made the decision to finalise a protocol that expounds more elaborately on the rights of women.
This, of course, was due to the pressure of the women’s rights movements continentally as well as locally in each country. The protocol is often called the Maputo Protocol. It is premised on the fact that even in 1981, women’s rights were recognised and guaranteed. It also takes into consideration the fact that women’s rights are vital to the development of each nation.For each agreement, and for each addendum (or protocol) to an agreement, States must, if they want to be bound by the provisions in the agreement, ensure that they not only sign, but also ratify or give formal consent to the agreement, making it official. Since the adoption, or coming into force of the Maputo Protocol in 2003, Botswana has neither signed nor ratified it.
Why is it important to explore this shortcoming, you might ask?! Well, Botswana is having her next general elections in October of this year. Members of the public are encouraged to register to vote. In such a time, it is crucial to critically take note of the country’s priorities. Currently, of the 63 seats in the National Assembly, only four (now) are occupied by women. This is a point that needs belabouring because it is an echo of the choices that Batswana make. The Maputo Protocol, which Botswana has failed to ratify, speaks very clearly on political participation of women in the political and decision-making processes. This includes ensuring increased and effective representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Gender Protocol makes similar provisions at its Article 13. It in fact goes further to request that State parties should build capacity for women to participate effectively. The challenge with the SADC is that there are no mechanisms through which countries that do not comply can be held accountable, which is easier for States to absolve themselves of their responsibilities.
The Maputo Protocol on the other hand, stands under the ambit of the African Charter, African Commission and African Court (please note that Botswana has failed to ratify the Charter binding it to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights). The mandate of Maputo Protocol is much more broader even besides the provisions on political participation and equality in Parliament of men and women. It ensures that States are held accountable by more States than just their neighbours.
Botswana’s failure to ratify the protocol, and the lack of pressure from even the opposition, shows where Botswana stands in terms of prioritising leadership of women. This is, to say the least distasteful, of a State that has prided itself in being a beacon of human rights. These attitudes are reflected in Batswana themselves, and shows the positioning of power in the country.
It is often said, that “women don’t vote for each other women”. This is not the case. Men who are in leadership were voted for by men, women and other persons in the country. To say women must vote for women is as if Batswana men do not see the value of being led by women. Botswana is clearly not a conducive environment for political leadership by women. There is a lot of ground to cover. And it is only with our votes that we can make the changes that are necessary. It is apparent that Botswana does not want to be held accountable for how it treats women in leadership. The question is why?!