The Department of Women Affairs, which is national machinery for mainstreaming gender within the Ministry of Labour and Home affairs, is expected to be rechristened the Department of Gender Affairs anytime soon. This would enhance efforts aimed at striking a balance in trying to address female and male demands in the development processes.
Under the current appellation the department runs the risk of focusing on one sex: women and girl child at the expense of the other sex, men and the boy child, with the result that serious imbalances could be created in the community.
Game Mokondo, Principal Gender Officer at WAD, said that there is general consensus that the public is not adequately informed on issues of gender, “so much that any mention of gender is readily associated with women.”
The effect of this has been that a lot of people, especially women, get disadvantaged even where there would be sufficient opportunities.
Although it is agreed that there is a general problem of gender insensitivity deriving largely from culturally engendered stereotypes and traditions, gender awareness remains by far a cross cutting challenge in initiatives intended to deal with gender imbalances.
Mokondo explained that contrary to popular belief, gender is supposed to be how society perceives the roles of males and females in everyday life, and not about the difference in sexual orientation. She added that while sex is a biologically determined characteristic that distinguishes females from males, it does not in any way place or change their universal roles.
Gender roles on the other hand are learnt through socialization processes. “Social construction begins the day a child is born, and it is a life process,” says the Government Gender expert. She added that a variety of myths, traditions, proverbs and biblical stories and folklores tend to regenerate these unequal relations between females and males. These and other oppressive cultural practices have effectively crept into practically all institutions and aspects of the social fabric.
As such, she argued, that given the historicity of women’s deprivations and denied access to land, technology, education, credit, and cattle on the basis of their perceived weaknesses, there is need for thoroughgoing gender analysis, planning and effective institutionalized approaches and frameworks for implementation in order to meaningfully tackle the unequal relations between women and men.
It is against this background that Government has signed and ratified several United Nations (UN) conventions to demonstrate her commitment to human rights. In the same vein Vision 2016 advocates that positive measures including affirmative action in favour of women should be taken to ensure full participation in positions of power, leadership and decision making at all levels of Botswana society.
Despite this brilliant vision some institutions, including Government and civic organizations, have by far failed the test in this regard. Political parties, like the Botswana Democratic Party, which is the ruling party, are not an exception; they continue to pay lip service to women participation save where it assures them victory in the targeted constituency.
Vice Chairperson of the Botswana National Council of Women (BNCW) Subcommittee on Education and Training of women on Gender , Gaolatlhe Thupe some has expressed concern that some current policies, programmes and projects are gender blind, although she hastened to point out that in some instances there are times when the problem is lack of implementation.
Botswana is bound by the national regional and international conventions to revise policies to make them gender sensitive.
It was observed that in spite of these conventions and policy initiatives the school curricula still provides for stories, oral and written that have the effect of inculcating negative gender stereotypes. An example is cited of playtime at schools where in the case of preschool a prescription as to which toys are for boys and those that are for girls made, such cars for boys and dolls for girls’.
Another instance involves where in theory, although both boy child and girl child may be encouraged to take certain courses or subjects during their study period, the fact that when it comes to choice of employment, or even once on the job, due cognizance is not taken of their circumstances such as pregnancy time, giving birth, menstruation and challenges related to their make up are interpreted to confirm their limitation as women.
“The consequence of this is that more Presidential awards for men, high number of male judges often times at the expense of women of integrity who have acquitted themselves well in the execution of their duty,” said one concerned Gender activist.
This followed a workshop held to sensitize members of the subcommittee on Education and Training on gender which aimed to review the broader BNCW’s strategic plan with a view to determining the ideal operational approaches for advancing the war on “Gender ignorance and innocence .“
It might help the “war” if individuals and families could try and see the outlook of their private lives as ultimately shaping the larger society they want to transform, and accordingly avoid double lives.