Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Political parties have become breeding nests for abuse of women and girls

Being a woman in politics is not easy.

This is because political parties in Botswana are still struggling and lagging behind in being more accommodative of women.

Ironically each of the political parties is talking about the importance of getting more women standing for office.

Every party talks about empowering women.

It’s all hogwash.

The fact of the matter is that before we can even start to address the issues surrounding why less and less women are entering parliament for example, we need to understand the complexity of issues surrounding women in Botswana. 

Women face a mammoth task of getting themselves accepted in politics.

This is not surprising perse because traditionally women are looked down upon and wrongly perceived as not competent for certain vocations.

Our society by and large still believes that women should stay in the kitchen or somewhere there.

This is reinforced by our various socialization processes that train boys and girls to have different bars of ambitions and expectations.

To start with family and society are not supportive of women.

How different things would be if at the very least political parties were supportive and welcoming of women, because it is in their inalienable right to do so, given the sheer numerical majority of women in these political parties.

Unless this abomination is addressed there will never be any significant advances in getting more women to participate in politics and get them to rise to the political top table where decisions are made.

Not only are political parties male dominated, they often support and protect practices that work against women.

In short, our political parties are very risky places for women.

Women are absolutely right to hold back and not contest for positions in large numbers simply because conditions have not been made conducive for them to do so.

Of course they face issues of capacity and also public speaking, but those are not the primary reasons.

The reasons have to do with the fact that political parties have normalized and institutionalized sexual harassment.

Within these parties women and girls have to put up with some of the worst forms of predatory abuses.

Violence against women manifests in many ways. And to succeed politically, women often have to go through or silently put up with those abuses.

To be sure, political parties in Botswana engender and promote vile and hostile environment for women.

In fact no political party can say it offers or promotes a culture of safety for women.

There are many examples that we can give.

But the most salient would of course be the historic contest between minister Pelonomi Venson and president Mokgweetsi Masisi.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party missed a marvelous opportunity to set the stage for a more descent culture that could have been cited for years to come as an example of how to accommodate women inside a political party.

Instead the party chose an easy route and went for the worst instincts.

There is no doubt that Ms Venson was proactively bullied, simply for daring to contest a position that had fallen vacant as per the BDP rules.

There is also no doubt that the party did nothing to protect her.

In fact the party subtly set the dogs on her.

And incited attacks on her all the way, including shamefully by the courts who strangely and with no basis questioned her citizenship and nationality.

Ms Venson was literally hounded out of politics, humiliated, perhaps not so much by Masisi personally,  but by his supporters and those who thought they were doing it on his behalf. But as a leader Masisi should have done more to protect Ms Venson.

He did not.

In the end, Venson was belittled not on the strength and/or weaknesses of her character and credentials. But rather on the fact that she is a woman.

To this day neither President Masisi nor any of his supporters, including party chairman and vice president Slumber Tsogwane has not seen it fit to apologise to Ms Venson.

Just how does that offer encouragement to other women who in future dream to challenge for big positions inside the BDP?

A stage has been set and a living example is now in place of how a woman will be treated simply for dreaming and showing the guts to compete in positions that men think are exclusively theirs.

Our political parties can do better not to encourage a hostile environment for women within their structures.

So far, we are failing the test – across the board.

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