Combating the myth of gender-based violence in Botswana
“Women come to us as a last resort”
Lorato Moalusi sits at her home office in Botswana.
“This morning I had an interview for Botswana Television, days are very busy,” she explains while shares with us her bright and warm smile.
Moalusi is a head of The Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre (BGBVC). For last 23 years she is passionately together with the team of colleagues running women shelters in rural and urban area of the country. They offer counselling, community education, staff and volunteer trainings, and conducting different research.
Last year in February the Botswana Police Commissioner revealed that reported rape cases in 2019 stood at 2,265. This meant there were six rape cases per day.
“Statistics collected by the Police have also shown that every 3 days, a woman is murdered by her intimate partner,” National Parliament discussed last year.
The complex reality of combating the myth of gender-based violence (GBV) is in Botswana nowadays tackled on institutional and grassroots levels.
“Women come to us as a last resort. They are already tired and want to go out of relationship,” describes Moalusi. Additionally to shelters for women, men, girls and boys, organization is addressing domestic violence and tries to raise the awareness of gender issues through different approaches.
A hard nut to crack in the society of some 2,5 million inhabitants. While this small prosperous Southern African country enjoys rapid economic growth and general development driven by the mining sector for last decades its facing challenges in the field of gender equality and gender-based violence.
Normalization of gender-based violence
Moalusi believes that gender-based violence is in Botswana “culturally normalized”.
“Man is considered a head of the household. He has an upper hand. He almost owns the woman,” she describes the reality of some households.
The initiatives of authorities show that they are aware of the problem.
“We can exterminate gender based violence,” announced in 2015 Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Jenamiso Batshu.
Already two decades ago Botswana subscribed to the Millennium Development Goals, which among others include the “Promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women” (goal 3) and to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) goal of halving gender violence by 2015.
Combating gender-based violence is linked to improved development policies integrating gender equality and empowerment of women.
This confirms also Chandapiwa Molefe, a scientist of Botswanan origins, who is now a research fellow by the Humboldt Foundation in Berlin.
“The aim is to make women effective leaders in their communities as well as their space of service and influence within the household,” she describes the empowerment of the women in her home country.
Molefe’s main field of research is gender mainstreaming in development and climate change related policies.
“Women can lead better when they are equipped with improved skills and technology, have better access to information on modern agricultural practices and climate information, as well as facilitated access to markets,” believes this young fellow, who was for years conducting field research in rural area of Botswana.
But before women enter the path of independency back home Moalusi is tackling serious issues challenging culture of silence and stubborn social norms.
“Until the day women decide to leave a partner they suffered all sorts of things,“ she says and illustrate it with an example of a woman, who was exposed to beatings for many years after finally taking a decision to leave.
Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. In the first step they are offered a safe and healthy environment.
Temporary emergency shelters
After victims are willing to recognize the abuse as a problem and face it, they are offered a security in form of emergency shelters run by BGBVC all over Botswana.
“They told me to forgive, I have done it so many times, it has been enough,” refers Moalusi to women, who searched for help at their center.
BGBVC is operating offices in Gantsi, Molepolole, Francistown and Gaborone and is now able to offer four different temporary shelters for period of three months to some 50 women and men.
After they enter the shelter the BGBVC creates a plan with them and assist them to search for accommodation after the closure of the three months hospitality.
Though both women and men experience gender-based violence, Moalusi is of the view that the major cause of GBV in the country is that entrenched in the patriarchal system, where women are not threated as equal. Even if the majority of victims to date are still women and children, BGBVC offers a shelter for men and boys.
“Two groups are especially vulnerable; children and women immigrant,” describes Moalusi. Women from foreigner countries are many times left without any options and might stay in the shelter longer.
Furthermore, with searching for better lives many foreign residents in Botswana have also serious issues with accessing medical help. After the initial call from Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation in Africa authorities acted.
Since 2019 immigrants are included in health scheme of free HIV treatment announced by the President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi. There are an estimated 30,000 foreign residents living with HIV in Botswana, but less than a quarter of them currently have an access to treatment.
“Additionally, to the save place we are offering legal and clinical counseling, as well as community outreach and education services to a great number of people across the nation,” the head of the BGBVC describes the activities of the center.
This is a progressive approach to the gender issues in Africa which tackles intimate sphere but also triggers social and cultural norms.
“Women come to end violence not relationship”
In case partners are showing willingness in center they offer a couple counseling “to build the lost alliance”.
“While others will return to their parents’ home, or some to relatives, there are couples willing to try again,” says Moalusi.
The stories are unique and depends on individuals. Some women might be very independent, they encountered the cases when women were running their own businesses, which offer them easy way to start new life.
“Of course we have also cases when women decide to go back even if the environment it’s not safe and they are aware of it. The main reason is economic dependence,” she concludes.
Couple counseling comes as a best way strategy to challenge traditional family model, gender roles and social patterns believes Moalusi, since according to their statistics more than 90% of women are willing to give it a second try.
“During the model counseling partners seat with us. We openly go through their lives, their past, we discuss how their upbringing might have influence their lives and how consequently they interact with their partners,” she presents the model and continues: “The discussion is followed by cognitive reconstruction, which helps them to rethink, to go back and to relearn the relationship attitude.”
Experiences from the couple counseling are showing that most of the people that are perpetrating violence have experience it in the past on their own. In that way the counseling is helping them to redo the life and to learn that there are alternatives to violence.
“Majority of women who come here are not searching to end the relationship, they are hoping to end violence,” emphasizes the head of BGBVC.
While their shelters are in rural and urban areas, Moalusi confirms referring to national studies, that the highest number of violence is coming from the Northern district which is mainly rural.
Changing mindset, empowering women
The approach of the government reveals that authorities are willing to seriously change the policies and improve the living situation of women.
Molefe herself as a Motswana woman and a researcher has previously worked on research projects through the University of Botswana in the rural areas. She states that in addition to issues that women face such as GBV, “women take up unpaid care giving work for the household, which takes up majority of the time,” she describes her experiences from the field.
She reports on general a gender imbalance in the agricultural sector, as stated by a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), which was compiled between 2014–2016. The report mentions that the Botswana’ College of Agriculture did not train female scholars in the past as Agriculture was viewed as a role for men.
“Women in rural areas are mainly in charge of food provisioning, hence agriculture is a way to achieve food security and some household income,” emphasizes Molefe.
Molefe dedicated her future career to develop a practical tool to support gender mainstreaming in climate change adaptation and development planning for the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, and the Ministry of Agriculture in Botswana.
While addressing the representation of women shows to be beneficial, challenging mindset on female roles in Botswana’s society is where the center tackles the issue. Here Moalusi and Molefe are both interested in directly addressing tradition: the community influencers.
“In communities’ influential people are give advice before the wedding. For example to the bride on how to behave towards her husband,” she describes the role of community mentors.
Together with her staff Moalusi talks to community members and directly addresses their thoughts on gender perceptions.
“By doing this we are demystifying cultural norms,” she concludes.
While Moalusi talks to grassroots community, Molefe is with her work directly influencing decision-makers.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has recognized the importance of gender mainstreaming in its policy documents and implementation strategies,” she announced.
Both women are with much effort and passion dedicated to creating a new world of gender equality while patiently tackling gender and social norms, the problems that accompany them, and influencing the development policies in Botswana.
The article was created during the workshops ComLab#3: “Fair for all? Sustainability and Social Justice” organised by Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in summer 2021. It was published in Austrian Magazine, The Global Player.