Friday, September 18, 2020

UDC entered a “Liberal Bargain”by agitating for a Commission of Inquiry!

This article seeks to apprehend the recent motion on gender – based violence raised by the UDC in Parliament. The critique presented in this article is offered in the spirit of constructive provocation and is not meant to suggest that the motion moved by Member of Parliament, Yandani Boko is without value. On the contrary being a party that espouses radical – revolutionary politics, RAP challenges the complicity of the motion to the reactionary political agenda of BDP, as well as its neglect of contemporary global political-economic processes and their effect on the prevalence of gender-based violence.

Whilst it is for a fact that social problems such as domestic violence often result from both material conditions and cultural systems that socialize men and women into the conventions of daily life, the line between political – economic structures and domestic violence is direct. There is persuasive evidence that chronic conditions of income inequality produce stress and low morale that affect health adversely, often resulting in domestic violence. According to research economic capital such as employment is a source of positive stimulus and that its removal (unemployment) will trigger anger, frustration, and criminal behavior.  Frustration – aggression hypothesis predicts that men who are laid-off will have an increased risk for violence while men who fear lay-offs will have a reduced risk. One study found that men who were laid off were six times more likely to report poor psychiatric condition versus subjects who had retained employment Catalano et al. 1993). Inquiry into the nature and prevalence of gender based – violence shows that financial stress is not limited to intimate partnerships, but also reaches children and the elderly. Retrenched workers have been found to often experience a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement; suicide and attempted suicide rates increase, as do incidents of crime and homicide rates. Mental health problems among unemployed men who face prospects of finding work have been described as including; anxiety disorders, insomnia, headaches, and stomach ailments, an increase in alcoholism and drug abuse, and increased mental hospital admissions. 

The point is that economic hardships and the loss of livelihood and earning capacity must be understood as a crucial point that reveals the ways that gender norms are embedded in all social relationships and work and wage-related circumstances. Simply put, the likelihood of partner violence increases in structurally disadvantaged households and communities. But noticeably missing from interventions about gender-based violence in Botswana are social theories that focus on structural inequalities and the intersecting experiences of gender violence and poverty. The prevailing response to gender based violence in Botswana mostly relies on the criminal justice system and sociology of patriarchy. It pays no attention to structural factors, which are largely determined by the economic organization of the ruling party – BDP, that unequivocally perpetuate inequalities in society. Perhaps most importantly, existing legal remedies and advocacy strategies in Botswana do not adequately engage an understanding of the political economy so that programmatic “advances” do not further exacerbate the economic circumstances of victims of gender based violence. 

Missing too from the domestic violence scholarship in Botswana are the explanations of ways that hierarchies of power and authority other than patriarchy contribute to gender – based violence. Domestic violence scholarship remains fixed on theories of patriarchy based on notions of a male-dominated society—arguments that cannot be gainsaid, of course, but its arguments that tend to neglect the structural conditions from which patriarchy emerged as a cultural arrangement. Moreover, advocates against domestic violence in Botswana are more concerned with remedies that serve to drive hyper-incarceration and further expand the apparatus of the punitive state and thus less likely to depart from conventional approaches to mitigate gender-based crimes. As a result of these circumstances, feminism has unwittingly provided a key ingredient of the new spirit of neoliberalism, thereby undermining class-based solidarity efforts, and failing to challenge the social construction of status categories, and ignoring the intersection of identities. 

Whilst appreciating the continued support for criminal laws as a response to domestic violence is not without an internal logic as it promises immediate results, both politically and in terms of the urgent need to bring about a cessation of violence, by contrast, directing legal attention to the systemic sources of violence requires a daunting long-term process. In fact, the legal system rarely remedies the structural inequality and socioeconomic problems that contribute to gender-based violence. Moreover, giving privilege to criminal-justice to address gender-based violence serves as a type of “doublespeak” – that is it carries a “language carrying the risk of concealment or misrepresentation of truth.” This should not be misconstrued to posit that domestic violence is wholly attributable to the economic dislocation experienced by perpetrators. It would be unduly facile to do so. We are very much alive to the fact that patriarchy is the dominant paradigm in which gender-based violence is deeply rooted. Whilst also not disputing that domestic violence is most assuredly criminal behavior, RAP reject sole reliance on criminal justice oriented “solutions” given their intrinsic punitive purpose of the criminal justice system. The absence of a social justice framework beyond criminal-justice in our view limits efforts to address the determinants of this social problem. That is to say meaningful intervention is unlikely without addressing poverty and social inequality in order to “dismantle what produces and perpetuates domestic violence.” 

In light of this, RAP calls for the turn away from criminal punishment to the relevance of poverty and economic concerns to domestic violence which necessitates reconsideration of the sources of the problem and recognition of the need to develop new remedies. One glaring truth the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced when it comes to gender-based violence is that it is it has deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed cracks in social, political and economic systems of BDP. Women with care responsibilities, informal workers, low-income families, and youth are under particular pressure. Since the crisis began we have already seen huge spikes in the numbers of women seeking support, including through calls to dedicated helplines. NGOs of community psychosocial workers addressing gender-based violence in Botswana continue to plead for much needed funding for a range of services for victims of gender-based violence including expanding improved protections for battered wives, partners and immigrants, important services to support sexual assault victims who suffer delays in criminal rape investigations. Under current economic conditions of chronic under- and unemployment, poor wages, substance abuse, mental illness and the dramatic increase of inequality under the BDP rule, there must be an endeavor to foster a “broader solidarity project”—that is, a social agenda that facilitate access to counseling and rehabilitation care services, job training, unemployment and disability benefits and sufficient opportunities for “economic citizenship. In essence gender based violence must be addressed in the context of poverty as Lisa Brush observes “violence affects income at least as much as income affects violence.” These are critical initiatives that UDC ought to be confronting BDP with, as interventions that can reduce and ameliorate the consequences of domestic violence instead of seeking to ‘co-opt’ the liberal – economics of BDP which have contributed gravely to gender-based violence. “Crying-out” for a commission of an enquiry on gender-based violence reflects the ideological blind spot of UDC about the structural determinants of domestic violence in Botswana. The call for a presidential commission of enquiry by UDC is rhetoric that seeks to unconsciously accommodate the very ideology that sustains structural inequality and thus entering into a “liberal bargain” with BDP. Clearly it illustrates UDC`s grave vagueness of the overarching neoliberal underpinnings of the BDP political economy! 

To convert rhetoric into reality, a meaningful movement against gender-based violence must attend to the systems of oppression that affect those who harm as well as those who are harmed. The Anti-domestic violence advocacy movement in Botswana should consider taking head – on the disparities that disadvantage both women and men which affect their ability to gain decent employment to pay bills, save money and ultimately to gain their independence. They must organize campaigns against problems of unemployment, low-paying employment and campaigns for a universal basic income to mitigate domestic violence. Failure to do so is to consign those whose lives are shattered by domestic violence to remedies more suited for those who possess political and financial power than those who do not. It is to depoliticize view of economic issues and embrace the prevailing approach of neoliberal companionship!


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