Who should be the judge and jury to say that day at the Gaborone bus rank when a young lady was stripped naked by a gang of hooligans, what she was wearing made her deserve to be treated that way?
This a question that a room full of women from all spheres of the community led by panellists at Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) office tried to answer in Gaborone on Tuesday.
“What prompted the conversation was the need to bring to light that beyond the march that took place at the bus rank the weekend that followed the incident, women must take the initiative to fight rape culture within their community by addressing issues of patriarchy,” said LEGABIBO board member Kagiso Sebina.
She said the police have committed to catching the culprits but women should also play their part.
“As much as it is to be acknowledged that not every woman can be an activist as they may lack the required strength or support structure, they can still learn to be honest about social issues that affect them,” she said.
“Activism is not the only way that we can dismantle the patriarchy in our society. Something like raising awareness on bodily autonomy and the woman’s right to own her space would be a significant step in the right direction,” said Sebina.
She said women are the ones who sometimes make the situation worse by policing each other. “Women have the tendency to dictate to each other on what to wear. There were women at the bus rank that fateful day encouraging men to victimise another woman because they supported that she was not dressed appropriately,” she said.
Sebina says body autonomy in this context simply means freedom from external control or influence when it comes to what one should wear, or even how fat or thin they choose to be.
“The principle of body autonomy in Botswana is almost non-existent among women. It starts from a very young age when we are told what to wear especially around our male counterparts. Should a young girl get sexually abused for wearing a short dress, her social conditioning brings guilt upon her as she may quickly blame the misfortune on her choice of dress,” said Sebina.
She said it was time for women to take stock and honestly admit that they to a large extent normalise rape culture by fuelling patriarchy.
Sebina said the boy child, on the other hand, can walk around with his jeans sagging way below his waist line but he never gets undressed by women.
“It is because we are raised in homes where our brothers are liberated to dress however they want while we don’t enjoy the same privilege. Our brothers therefore feel they can reprimand us if we don’t dress conservatively,” said Sebina.
“Our society therefore is such that women perpetuate a system that starts at home where our mums and aunties scold us for going skimpy,” she said.
“We have established that there is already an entrenched system in place and now we need to figure out the way forward as women. It is going to take more than a march. Although the Gaborone march was a great success as it was the most radical, I doubt much has changed on the ground. We need to dialogue extensively as women, we should not leave men out but we have to realise that it is our fight and we need to keep at it until laws change and society itself changes,” she said.