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Women s organisations tackle gender-based violence

A 28 year-old man hanged himself after stabbing his 25 year-old girlfriend several times with a sharp instrument recently. The woman died on her way to hospital while the man was later found hanging inside his house.
Mqondisi Dube

Such a scenario has become an almost everyday occurrence in Botswana. As the country grapples with unprecedented incidents of passion killings, the women s rights organisations have come up with what they believe will go a long way in reducing such violent incidents.

According to police reports, about 100 people died last year alone in violence-related incidents and the number is expected to be higher this year. The Women s NGO Coalition, an umbrella body for women s rights organisations in the country, says it will commemorate the 16 Days of Activism, from November 25 to December 10 by taking the message to communities most affected by these acts of violence.

This year s 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence would be held under the theme Family Peace - My Responsibility . The communities that have already been identified are Mogoditshane and Tlokweng on the outskirts of the capital, Gaborone, and Orapa and Letlhakane in the central parts of the country.

We have to educate people in communities that are most affected. There is a disturbing trend where you find that gender-based violence is prevalent in some communities more than others, Women s NGO Coalition Information Officer, Keabonye Ntsabane says. She says this year they had decided to change their approach to the manner in which they commemorated awareness days such as Sixteen Days of Activism. In the past, says Ntsabane, we have been concentrating on major centres but we have since discovered that the message has not reached people in the rural communities.

The Coalition has called for a fresh approach to halt love killings. Ntsabane appeals to government departments, politicians and the civil society to assist in curbing these killings.

The most disappointing factor is that such killings are continuing despite messages preached by the media that they are painful and inhuman, Ntsabane says.

She says lack of resources hinder information dissemination to rural communities but they will try their best to reach as many people as possible during the 16 days of activism. Ntsabane says they have noticed that passion killings are rampant in remote areas and cited Orapa and Letlhakane as places where incidences of domestic violence were increasing. The coalition has introduced radio call-in programmes so that women can phone-in and discuss their problems. we are trying hard to educate the communities about the consequences of violence, she says.

Ntsabane says they encourage the use of the local language, Setswana, in the media to effectively reach the masses in the villages of which the majority cannot read English. What is affecting women is that they did not know their rights. Even when they get beaten by their husbands or boyfriends, they do not report to the police. Those who report, later withdraw the cases. This is the reason why we thought we should educate the rural communities and we have specifically targeted the period during the 16 Days of Activism, she says. Ntsabane says such initiatives are crucial to reach the rural community as they seldom have access to the media.

EMANG BASADI, a women s rights organisation which falls under the Women s NGO Coalition will launch an outreach programme to coincide with this year s commemoration of 16 Days of Activism.

Through this outreach programme, the organisation will be able to interact with communities and disseminate information pertaining to violence, particularly domestic violence.

Already, the Botswana Police has taken the messages to communities away from major towns. At a crime prevention seminar held in Lobatse, a small settlement about 100 kilometres, south of Gaborone, Superintendent Edwin Matende expressed concern at women who withdraw cases. He said such a situation makes it difficult to fight gender based violence. Women withdraw cases for fear of losing their boyfriends or spouses if they are convicted but this defeats the fight against violence, said Supt. Matende.

Kgosi Mosadi Seboko, a Paramount Chief and the first woman to be the chairperson of the House of Chiefs, blames the media for some acts of violence because of the way it portrays women. Women are portrayed as sex objects and this leaves them exposed to violence. We are counting on the media for a concerted effort with other stakeholders in promoting education and action against gender based violence, says Kgosi Seboko.

She urged women s rights organisations to check on progress being made by rural women as there seems to a huge disparity between rural women success stories as compared to their counterparts in the urban areas.

Participants at a recent workshop on the commemoration of Sixteen Days of Activism held in Gaborone agreed that the media should help remote communities realise that gender violence is a violation of fundamental human rights.

We feel that there is so much violence in the villages because of lack of knowledge. These people are not sensitised about the consequences of violence. Men still cling to the moribund idea that if a woman is not faithful she has to be beaten, said Peter Motsepe, a women s rights activist.

He said such thinking leads men to kill women and later committing suicide. The British High Commissioner to Botswana, John Merry, speaking at a training workshop for women in Tlokweng recently lauded efforts to educate people in the villages but warned that it would take time to eradicate gender-based violence and achieve gender balance as is the case in Britain.

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