Saturday, December 3, 2022

State blamed for pitiful service to gender-based violence  

When Mahalapye East opposition Member of Parliament (MP), the relatively young Yandani Boko, tabled a motion in parliament to declare gender-based violence a national emergency, the Minister responsible for gender issues Annah Mokgethi shot it down.

Women did not cry the loudest in support of Yandani, a victim of parliamentary majority advantage, but giggled the loudest at a sick joke by a former Head of State making fun, body shaming that is, out of another legislator Botlogile Tshireletso whom he said he could not possibly marry because she’d destroy the matrimonial bed on account of her body mass. The MP’s motion had sought the President to set up a commission of inquiry on Gender-Based violence. That was two years and no action ago. The rationale for dismissing Boko’s motion was that the government of the day would come up with an even a better motion at a time perhaps suitable for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party – so Yandani was told to hold his horses. 

A 62-year-old male, Reginald Stemela, who was a potential perpetrator of violent acts against women, by his own admission, came visiting at Sunday Standard to narrate his encounter and frustrations with what he described as a government good on policy but lacking on implementation. His frustrations stem from attempts to get endorsement for partnership with his flag ship intentions to hold a “Men Abuse relay Event”. He wrote several letters to the Commander of the Botswana Defence Force, the Office of the President and the Prisons Department seeking support and endorsement but was given a cold shoulder. He wrote to stakeholders he thought would help him in his hermit crusade to alert men in Botswana about the seriousness of gender-based violence. Alas! That was not to be. For instance he wrote to the Permanent Secretary to the President on 23 June this year and still awaits a reply.     

The white-bearded stranger was seething with anger saying the issue of gender-based violence cannot be addressed by authorities sitting in air conditioned offices without involving ordinary citizens in the sticks.  He has beef with the government for telling him that he could not run a one-man show but has to work with a collective. In particular, he is annoyed by a response he got from the Department of Gender and Development through a letter authoured by Director Thapelo Phuthego dated 26 April this year in which he was told: “We regret to inform you that your request has not been acceded to as it is not within the Department’s mandate to assist individuals but organisations. You are advised to consider working with local communities to build your capacity.”

Stemela, the self-proclaimed male anti-gender-based violence activist believes, with strong conviction, that individuals can make contributions in small different ways to address the issue of gender-based violence outside the somewhat cumbersome involvement of non-governmental organisations. “NGOs are there to protect the job security of their staff. They function to please sponsors. I want to reach out to men in villages not just in the capital Gaborone, on foot or by bicycle. Formal road shows by NGOs are unlikely to drive the message. One on one direct conversation with men is almost guaranteed to yield desirable results,” he said.  “With or without support from government, I’m willing to traverse this country to alert men like me that gender-based violence is real. I personally had my own problems in life which nearly drove me to be another perpetrator of gender-based violence.

I am willing to walk the length and breath of this country just like Barry Eustice did before he died in 2007 to raise awareness and if needs be funding,” Stemela told Sunday Standard. “Government cannot sit idle and seek to work with NGOs ignoring individuals who want to make small contributions in many small different ways,” he said. Gender based violence is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. The United nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says over 67% of women in Botswana have experienced abuse, which is over double the global average saying gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence and normalization.

Victims of violence, the majority of which are women and girls, can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death.

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