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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Gender issues: government commended

Gender violence has reached unprecedented levels and has been described as one of the most flagrant crimes. While the government has been commended for its efforts the media has also been accused of not treating issues of gender with the seriousness they deserve.
Mqondisi Dube

The government of Botswana, together with Women's Non-Governmental Organisations has committed itself to the eradication of violence against women and children. The government, through the Ministry of Education, has established a Gender Reference Committee whose main aim and role is to co-ordinate and monitor all matters relating to gender violence. The committee looks at cases of gender violence affecting personnel within the ministry, teachers and students.

"All the departments in the Ministry will form committees to co-ordinate activities relating to gender issues. Infusion and integration strategies are being used across the country by different departments to sensitise stakeholders on gender issues," says programme co-ordinator, Priscilla Sibisibi.

She says there are deliberate efforts by the government to develop a school curricula that is gender sensitive and certain programmes like the Women in Education Management are in place to try women on management issues. Sibisibi says the government is also reviewing its documents to ensure gender neutrality.

The government has realised that there are gender imbalances within its structures and, Sibisibi says, there is need to strive for gender parity. She says although studies have shown that females are the ones who are marginalized, there is need to guard against reversing the marginalisation to males.

In schools around Botswana, the government has embarked on strengthening the guidance and counselling programmes already in place. The guidance and counselling service is a support system aimed at equipping students with life skills that can enable them to be functional within their environment. The service attends to the negative psychological impact that violence breeds.

The Government has also teamed up with Emang Basadi, a women's rights organisation based in Gaborone, to fund a project aimed at empowering women and children. Since the project was launched in September last year, 726 women have been assisted through counselling and legal aid services. Emang Basadi (Setswana translation for Women stand up), Co-ordinator, Idah Mokereitane says they intend to publish educational material to empower women and children with relevant knowledge to protect their rights as the country prepares to commemorate International day for the elimination of violence against women on November 25.

Emang Basadi has been offering counselling to survivors as well as perpetrators of violence. Even students have taken up the fight against gender violence. In March this year, secondary school students in Maun, in western Botswana, came up with a programme called Students Against Rape (SAR). SAR is an adolescent youth advocacy program that aims to empower both teachers and students to make well informed decisions on sexual harassment crimes.

The Botswana Police has come up with strategies and efforts to reduce sexual offences, mostly committed against women and the girl child. "The Botswana Police has devoted its resources to raising the level of awareness with regard to sexual offences which include prevention, reduction and reporting," Senior Superintendent Victor Ghanie says. The awareness is being done through public forums like crime prevention committees to educate the public through seminars and workshops.

"The police have also established consultation rooms at all their police stations to ensure that women or sexual offences victims are assisted in private, since failure to accord privacy could result in further frustrating the rape victim or keeping people away instead of reporting cases," he says.

The police have also decided to partner with women organisations to reduce cases of violence. Supt. Ghanie says they would be inviting women's organisations to their workshops and in turn, women organisations invite police officers to their workshops. The Botswana government has amended laws which it felt were discriminatory and not user friendly.

Supt. Ghanie said the law had been amended to guarantee privacy even at the trial stage. The names of the victims are protected to guard against further victimisation and there is mandatory sentencing for rapists. The judiciary has come up with stiffer penalties to deter would be offenders.

Supt. Ghanie said sexual offences in Botswana were alarmingly on the increase. In 2000, 1383 cases of rape were reported while in the same year 184 cases of defilement were recorded. Women rights organisations blame some government laws for accelerating cases of gender violence.

According to Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), a research carried out in the region showed that there are laws which discriminate against women and the girl child. Its spokesperson, Kitso Mmusiemang said there were lobbying for such laws to be amended. WLSA seeks to improve the legal status of women in Southern Africa. It said it was disheartening to note that there was no law in Botswana which deals specifically with domestic violence.

"We have drafted a Domestic Violence Bill which has been submitted to the government through the Women's Affairs Department to allow relevant authorities to incorporate it into our laws. We also facilitated the revision of the Marriage Act last year," Mmusiemang says.

The media, as an institution, has more often come under attack from women's organisations for its manner of reporting on gender issues. "The media is usually part of the problem more than offering a solution. The way it portrays women leaves a lot to be desired," says Vivian Gunda of Women's NGO Coalition.

She told a recent media workshop in Gaborone on gender violence that the media's coverage was skewed towards men. Gunda says the media portrays women as sex objects and seemingly blames them for the violence perpetrated on them, at the same time justifying men's actions.

Colleen Lowe-Morna, the executive director of Gender Links, says the media is the perpetrator of gender stereotypes in the society. Gender Links is a Southern African organisation committed to giving effect to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development through working with the mainstream media in promoting gender equality in the region.

"Unlike governments that can be made to sign international conventions and then hold to them, the media is a slippery eel. The media claim their independence (at least when it comes to gender) and hide behind the bottom line. Often, sexist advertising and reporting are seen to be integral to this bottom line, though there is precious little research to back this," she told a workshop on reporting gender in Gaborone last month.

She says if the media has a role to play in challenging other imbalances in the society, then it has a role in challenging sexism. Lowe-Morna says the problem is that the media itself is far from being transformed as proved by figures from newsrooms. It is estimated that only one out of five journalists, and five percent of all media managers in Southern Africa are women.

"Newsrooms and the media fraternity are notorious for their old boy networks, pub culture and mentality. Sexual harassment is rife in many media houses," she says. Prof. Tlou says the media should be well informed in order to impart information on HIV/AIDS issues to help eradicate gender based violence.

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