Sunday, June 16, 2024

The BCP Women’s League observes the 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women

In keeping with the global political tradition of observing the 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women, the BCP Women’s League (BCPWL) once again takes this time to continue its well known activism on this issue that continues to grab headlines in every known society.

The League seeks to round off this period by reminding the nation that violence against women and children is an affront to and violation of their personhood and citizenship and that the problem continues to lower the quality of life of many women, young and old alike. Many women continue to be pre-occupied with the onerous task of making life changing decisions in the quest to ensure safety and security for themselves and their children. The home continues to hold the false promise of providing a place of refuge and safety for women and children, as social relations within many families become more and more undemocratic, creating conditions of both hardship and strife. Thus most women and children, as the weakest people socially, politically and economically, face a deteriorating quality of life.

The streets and neighbourhoods have also become increasingly unsafe for women and children as poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS and other social problem add to the burdens women have already been facing. Many women in Botswana live under the threat of violence of all types, at all times and a significant number of them have been forced to constantly re-evaluate the way they live their lives, the places they go to, the people they befriend and whether or not it is safe to do mundane things such as visiting bars, walking and jogging in the streets or working in the office till late at night. Even the simple act of walking home from work in the evenings has become an issue of major decision making.

Women are pre-occupied with these issues, knowing that if they do not sacrifice even the most important things in their lives, they get blamed for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time or of having worn clothing that attracted an act of gang rape. This constant re-evaluation of their daily lives is a coping mechanism that is necessary to ensure their security and safety in a world that seems helpless and possibly indifferent as levels of violence against women increase at a frightening pace. The League therefore calls on the nation to use this period of activism and this time beyond, as a time for introspection and reflection about what kind of society is desirable for Botswana and what kind of actions are necessary to end the frightening levels of violence and the accompanying insecurity. In other words, the League calls for critical reflection as the nation’s searches for a compassionate, just and caring, as well as a safe and secure nation.

Many were shocked at the recent alleged rape and murder of a young girl in Gaborone and many were just as quick to label the alleged murderer “sick and depraved”. But in a country where communities no longer react to the so-called “passion killings”, where violence against women is subtly condoned, is it any wonder that young men seem to find the murder of their girlfriends/ex-girlfriends a routine act of so-called ‘discipline’? And why should it not be a routine act of so-called ‘discipline’ when society seems unmoved and the courts of law mete out light sentences and even acquit in some cases? Why should the young men not see it as an accepted social practice when the much anticipated State of the Nation Address (SOTNA) for instance, never makes mention of issues of violence against women even though the speech is delivered on the door step of the Women’s Affairs Department-led annual programme of activities that marks the 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women? One can be forgiven for concluding that SOTNA reflects a neo-conservative perspective, that is common among us, that dismisses violence against women as a personal issue that falls outside scope of the political and social programme of government.

This sadly means that the global and local meanings of violence and this period of activism are completely over-shadowed by issues the address deems more important. In other words there is no hope that this government will ever accord violence against women the attention it deserves in the broad context of national development priorities, despite the severely harmful effects on women and children. It is worth noting and lamenting that the government of Botswana has failed to domesticate the 1979 UN Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women even though it acceded to it, albeit after seventeen (17) years, in August 1996. Acceding to the 1979 Convention means that after seventeen years of indecision, the Botswana government committed to faithfully observe and implement provisions of the Convention. But to date the Convention has not been domesticated in the relevant laws, thus preventing establishment of legal and structural frameworks for the creation of gender equality and for the protection of women. Further, domestication of the Convention would also have automatically included application of the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, thus providing mechanisms for the prevention of violence against women. This tardiness and inaction, raises vexing questions: Why has the government, despite many calls by NGOs and other human rights activists not domesticated the UN convention and declaration? Why is society so unmoved by high levels of violence against women? What informs and sustains this indifference? What shapes violence against women?

In its deliberations of these issues, the BCPWL took full cognizance of the social democratic political philosophy of the Botswana Congress Party, which seeks to attain a developmental state with high levels of human development and a radical consciousness of what democracy, social justice, equity, equality of opportunity and people centredness mean. BCPWL also recognized that this political philosophy seeks to protect the marginalized and vulnerable groups in society and that in doing so the discourses of gender, social class, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity will be entrenched to create a sharp consciousness of what are some of the key political and social issues in contemporary Botswana. Starting from this political position, the workshops agreed that there were deep and complex causes of the seeming societal indifference to issues of violence against women. Patriarchy and capitalism were singled out as the social, political and economic forces that influenced unequal power relations between men and women; that patriarchal and capitalist social relations provided the bedrock for the subordination of women.

The participants additionally noted that while some critical analysis of the effect of capitalist social relations had been done in Botswana, similar treatment had not been given to patriarchy. It was thus important to analyse it from a critical perspective, as this provided one of the few credible avenues for understanding violence against women. In attempting to answer the questions above in a consolidated format, the workshops agreed that patriarchy which can be briefly said to be the social order that institutionalizes the rule of the father or the rule of men over women and children in the domestic sphere; and consequently powers male dominance and privilege in the public sphere and was the complex force that informed societal actions and reactions to issues of violence against women. It was also agreed that patriarchal values and norms sustained and perpetuated the notion that violence was a legitimate tool for the social control of women; and that this control of women itself was a critical political tool for upholding male dominance in society. The indifference and lack of political will to address the problem was but a manifestation of this deeply political strategy. In recognition of the imperative to educate women and men on the need to understand and analyse patriarchy as part of the broader programme of re-arranging power relations and ending violence against women, the League agreed that a sustained programme of activities would be undertaken on an ongoing basis, beyond and above the November-December period.

This programme of activities would include: A call to the Women’s Leagues of different political parties and civil society organizations to join hands to collectively seek ways of cultivating the political will of their leadership to address issues of violence against women in the context of patriarchal and capitalist social relations; and to work with local and global organizations that have called for an end to this pandemic. That a deeper meaning of democracy must be advocated for, so that democracy should be understood to entail a radical consciousness of its meaning and that the much touted democracy in Botswana was but an illusion created by bourgeois and neo-liberal discourses that ignored the poverty, rampant unemployment, wide income disparities and general low levels of human development as obvious signs of the absence of the basic ingredients for democratization. The various leadership forums should be used to educate on violence against women and that those standing for public office should include a statement that denounces and reflects an understanding of this problem. The League should also develop a broad based tradition of conducting marches and rallies to promote an understanding of the harmful effects of violence against women and to call on the government to domesticate the UN Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and for application of the Declaration of on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Occasions such as the World Aids and The Human Rights days should be used to continue to show the complex intersection between HIV/AIDS, human rights, women’s rights and issues of violence against women The focus on the home, which is at the micro level of society, should be a conscious decision for individual members to politicize the social relations within the home, so that the values of democracy and inclusion take root from this private/domestic sphere. The home as a privatised sphere should be seen as the site from which the subordination of women begins and intensifies and where violence against women is entrenched. This focus on the home should reflect the political desire to democratize the gendered socialization processes and family values.

Democratising socialization requires that women as the active custodians of patriarchal culture should understand that this role erodes possibilities for peace, with direct implications for themselves and their children. In conclusion, the BCPWL emphasizes that the issues raised above clearly spell out that democracy and consequently peace, should be tangible issues that are routinely discussed and consciously practised in the daily interactions of people in the home and among members of communities. When these basic tenets of democracy and peace are understood and reproduced in the home, there is a good chance that they will be effortlessly transferred into the public sphere and into the world. Current instrumentalist conceptualisations of democracy and peace have failed to break down and infuse the two issues into the everyday actions and decisions of individuals. This new approach to demystify and simplify the concepts of democracy and peace will hopefully begin to addresses the objective of this year’s theme of From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Lets End Violence Against Women.

*Lebohang Letsie is Secretary for International Relations (BCP Women’s League)

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