As Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state prep for a squaring-off on the 17th of this month in Lilongwe, Malawi, speculation is rife as to which pertinent regional issues form the agenda.
At the forefront of Human Rights activists’ concerns is the fact that Botswana and Mauritius remain the only two countries within the regional network that hasn’t signed the SADC Gender and Development Protocol.
To date, only 11 out of 13 SADC member countries have signed and ratified the Protocol, with the exception of Botswana and Mauritius.
The SADC Gender and Development Protocol is a legally binding instrument with the aim of providing for the empowerment of women, to eliminate discrimination and achieve gender equality by encouraging and harmonizing the development and implementation of gender responsive legislation, policies and programmes and projects.
A news article by international auditing firm Grant Thornton Botswana lists Botswana as one of the few developing countries to have an impressive representation of women in senior positions in the workplace. However, women representation in decision making positions of power, such as parliament, has been poor.
Gender Links reports that the Protocol has been edited countless times in order to appease Heads of State who were uncomfortable with some of the provisions included in the instrument citing cultural clashes.
In 2012, the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer quoted President Ian Khama explaining that Botswana was not ready to sign the Protocol because of the mandatory language used in crafting most of the clauses that the country considered critical.
“Other international instruments allow member states to sign and register their reservations on clauses that they are not comfortable with. This option was not available to Botswana since the SADC Treaty does not allow for adoption of any Protocols with reservations. These are our reasons for not signing. We considered some of the timeframes unrealistic, and some of the measures have serious resource implications that we cannot guarantee,” said Khama.
One controversial area of interest that Heads of State were uncomfortable with was the issue of the Marital Rape Act which has since been edited out of the draft .The then Regional head of The Gender and Protocol Alliance, Elsie Alexander, had revealed that “marital rape was no longer an issue of concern amongst those signing the protocol as it was one of the areas that made them uncomfortable with signing the protocol in the first place”.
Locally, the matter of Marital Rape was recently brought back into the spotlight by an article from a senior Law Lecturer at the University of Botswana, Obonye Jonas, whose argument was that the legislature must lead the way ahead of courts in abolishing the doctrine of marital exemption in order to avoid the problem of retroactive application of criminal law.
Obonye sources an orbit delivered during the 2008 High Court ruling concerning Letsholathebe Vs The state in 2008, in which the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ian Kirby, remarked, “Rape is a most serious, humiliating and invasive assault against a person and to suggest that it should be permitted if the perpetrator is a spouse is totally unacceptable and a historic aberration.”