Sunday, July 12, 2020

Batswana girls graduating from Barbie dolls to the one eyed monster

A staggering 33% of Batswana girls, barely out of their nappies are graduating from adorable Barbie dolls to the one eyed monster – literally. While their male peers are still screaming bang! bang! playing cops and robbers with toy guns, they are already initiated into the X-rated 18SN bang! bang!.

The 2015 Botswana Youth Risk Behavioural and Biological Surveillance survey revealed that 33% of sexually experienced students had sexual intercourse for the first time before the age of 13; and 1 in 5 of sexually experienced students were forced to have sex in the preceding 12 months. 

For a most girls and women in Botswana, the first time they had sex was involuntary and traumatic.  A study by Esther Seloilwe states that “the presence of sexual abuse among societies in Botswana is a phenomenon whose occurrence is usually denied albeit the police report on it and legal frameworks have been established to combat it. Several factors influence the concealment of sexual abuse among adolescent girls, which includes cultural factors and social status of the perpetrators.” One marker of the cultural gender inequality is that it is commonly unacceptable for girls to demonstrate sexual interest. Boys’ awareness of this coyness teaches them to not respect a woman’s no. A lot of boys/men think that, when women say no they mean yes. To them, a woman can never come out clearly and say “let’s do it.” They feel that you need to read her facial expression. These gender roles for women are coupled with sexual scripts for men about what it means to be a real man (not taking “No” for an answer) and male sexual voracity: Men are socialized to think that they cannot sexually control themselves. For some men, the coercion isn’t physical. They don’t hold the woman down. Instead, they use a woman’s love against her.

A man will mock a woman for her inexperience. Repeatedly remind the woman that he has been with women who were older, more willing and freer. That is enough to make a woman cower to a man’s advances all in the name of pleasing him even when she isn’t ready and comfortable. The coercion makes women want to be the person their boyfriend needs. The guilt-tripping. Women are so used to coercive behaviors that they expect them. They’re so threaded throughout their lives, so ingrained within the sexual scripts with which they are familiar, that they don’t even recognize them for what they are. Holding somebody down is a coercive act. Not paying attention to body language is a coercive act. Trying to wear somebody down after they have already expressed disinterest or discomfort is a coercive act. Stealthing- removing a condom without your partner’s consent—is just one example of a coerced sexual act. Stealthing is a selfish act of power and control. The perpetrator feels entitled to their partner’s body. The ‘pleasure’ and ‘thrill’ is actually derived from asserting their presumed power over their partner by purposely violating them with an act that they would not typically consent to.

Women/girls who are forced or coerced into sex tend to be younger and to have a wider age gap with their male partner. Women who’d been coerced into first sex are more likely to have a subsequent unwanted first pregnancy or abortion; to not use birth control; and to be diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, or problems with ovulation or menstruation. Rape and sexual assault are much more common than generally recognized, and the effects on long-term health can be significant. Forced sexual initiation in women appears to be common and associated with multiple adverse reproductive and general health outcomes. It’s worth pointing out that most women do not report or visit a doctor after being raped – something that would be particularly hard if it’s your first sexual experience. For many women, this was in their teen years.

Senior Sociology lecturer, Dr Sethunya Mosime says, “These women’s early sexual experiences may be life-changing. Women report being coerced through physical harm, some through the threat of harm, others through verbal pressure, and others by being physically restrained. Women also report being given drugs. Specifically, coerced or forced sexual initiation may directly increase a woman’s risk for HIV through several mechanisms.

A woman may experience forced or coercive sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected partner. Men who use coercive tactics sexually with partners are also more likely to be physically abusive and have multiple or concurrent sex partners and may therefore be more likely to be infected with HIV or other STIs. Psychological coercion” might include continual nagging and pressuring; false promises; threats to end the relationship or withhold resources. “Physical force” could refer to unwanted, rough sex; sex obtained through threat of a beating or threat with a weapon; physical coercion through holding down; or actual beatings prior, during or after unwanted sex.”

UNFPA Youth Specialist Kefilwe Koogotsitse says “Gender based violence is common in many Batswana households. GBV occurs predominantly within the household set up, hence is often used interchangeably with the term “domestic violence”. Women across all distinctions by class, colour, tribe, education, religion, and age fall victim to abuse in their various relationships. Gender inequality in Botswana is fuelling the epidemic among females. Factors such as early sexual debut, forced marriage and gender-based violence have increased their vulnerability to HIV. Men known to their victims committed more than two thirds of all rapes. Partners or acquaintances constitute the majority of perpetrators showing that violence against women is primarily a domestic phenomenon. Violence against women in Botswana has its roots in culturally based perceptions which subordinate women to men as well as gender stereotyped roles that perpetuate and tolerate the use of violence against women. Acts of violence are a manifestation of unequal power relations between men and women in relationships. Men use violent behavior to establish power and control over women through fear and intimidation. The escalation of incidence of GBV over the years was attributed to the shifting gender roles due to the process of general social and economic change in Botswana.”

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.