Married men may in future face jail terms for raping their wives as SADC heads of state edge closer to approving the Marital Rape Act.
SADC heads of state have excluded, from the recently approved Gender and Development protocol, the marital rape Act, which was one of the major issues addressed by non-governmental activists of the Southern African Development Committee (SADC)’s Gender and Development Alliance, approved at the recent SADC summit in South Africa.
Even though the SADC leaders approved the protocol, the Botswana government is yet to sign.
Botswana President Ian Khama boycotted the summit in protest against the presence of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
The marital rape Act served to enforce the law to recognize that rape within a marriage is a crime and those affected are victims who need to be protected; in most cases the victims are women.
Elsie Alexander, a lecturer at the University of Botswana and regional head of the SADC Gender and Development Alliance, said the act was excluded by heads of state for several years citing reasons of its contradicting of African culture.
“The state made claims that the act goes against our traditions, especially since marriage is considered sacred in Africa. Sex between married people is, therefore, considered consensual,” said Alexander.
She said that the protocol is now a SADC instrument, which makes the acclaimed legal document a binding contract for governments who are to report on the implementation’s progress every two years.
The Southern African Protocol Alliance launched its first campaign in 2005 to highlight differences in the lives of the region’s women.
The protocol has gone through a rather radical scheme of editions, seven editions to be exact, made by different member states.
“SADC activists are happy though and would like to strongly commend heads of state for signing the protocol that has gone through long channels and endless petitions. This is a victory for women in SADC; so much has been achieved just by getting our leaders to sign on the dotted line,” said Alexander.
She also argued that one of the challenges currently faced by Botswana women is the extreme violence in their family lives, especially women in rural areas who do not know the best prevention and protection ways to employ when they are victims.
“The signing of the protocol is a step forward in ensuring that women’s rights are protected,” she added.
Alexander said that even though they didn’t get some of their key provisions, like the Marital Act and the Cohabitation Act, included, the Alliance is adamant that this is only the beginning as now they will advocate for a change in the programmes and national policies concerning women.
“All that’s left now is to simplify the document, translate and then disseminate it to the rest of the Batswana women, especially in the rural areas. The key word is: implementation,” said the UB lecturer.