The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/ AIDS (BONELA) would like to express its disappointment following cabinet’s refusal to make condoms accessible to prisoners. Cabinet refusal on the matter was communicated by the Vice President Lt General Mompati Merafhe at today’s National AIDS Council (NAC) sitting.

The NAC, in its May 2010 sitting deliberated on the issue of prevention in prisons and concerns were raised by, among others, BONELA, His Excellency Mr. F. G. Mogae, and the Minister of Health Dr. Rev. John Seakgosing that failure to provide inmates with condoms is regressive in the combat of HIV/AIDS. At the end, the NAC, under the leadership of His Excellency Mr. Festus G. Mogae, resolved that Minister Seakgosing takes the issue to cabinet for consideration and possible approval.

BONELA learnt with great shock and disbelief from the Vice President that concerns raised by the Minister of Health were his personal views and were not representative of Botswana government’s views. He maintained that “the government would not give inmates condoms.”

BONELA Director, visibly disappointed, noted that “We are disappointed that a matter so grave was treated in a manner that it was. It begs the question whether the NAC is taken seriously by our government or it’s a gathering meant to pass time? The least that cabinet should have done was to call representatives of the NAC, if they took the matter seriously, to make a case for provision of condoms in prisons. Otherwise it would appear like cabinet thought we were unreasonable in our resolution and deserved no audience at all. Decisions ought to be preceded by debates; sometimes uncomfortable yet realistic issues need thorough deliberation.

Moreover, inconsistent messages by our government are disturbing and confusing to the public. “We cannot have the Minister of Health, the Vice President and the Former President sending conflicting messages to the public, this is untenable.”

Ndadi further observed that the government on the one hand acknowledges that people have different sexual orientations, as evidenced by the recent Employment Amendment Bill, passed by Parliament. And it is a pity on the other hand government seems to think inmates do not have sex among themselves or that inmates are immune from HIV infection. This is a clear cut case of applying double standards. He further noted that protecting prisoners is by extension protecting our very own communities as prisoners walk in and out of prison daily.

“For us to reverse the tide against HIV/AIDS we need leadership that is responsive, sensitive and pragmatic. Lesotho, amongst other countries, has such leadership as inmates have access to condoms. It’s a pity our nation does not enjoy such a similar progressive leadership. Zero infections by2016 is an unrealistic dream if the current attitude is to prevail,” cautioned the Director.

The Director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/ AIDS (BONELA) has been named a 2010 Junior Chamber International Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (JCI TOYP) recipient in the category of contribution to children, world peace and/or human rights. This award is in honour of his extraordinary work on human rights for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Ndadi, who is among 10 recipients of this award and one of only two Africans will be honoured at a ceremony to be held on Wednesday, November 3 at the JCI World Congress in Osaka, Japan.

BONELA Chairperson, Tshiamo Rantao, said the organization is proud to have at its helm a dedicated and world acclaimed leader who is passionate about the plight of those who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS as well as those that are ostracized by society due to their sexual orientation. He added that “Uyapo is a dynamic, passionate and motivated young man, who has pushed the limits of what is possible for his generation to achieve in the realm of human rights and HIV and AIDS. BONELA is very proud of him and hope he will continue in his pursuit of justice for the marginalized.”

Part of Ndadi’s citation for the award reads: “Ndadi has challenged preexisting stigmas and pushed for increased equality among all Batswana, regardless of medical condition or sexual preference. By working with BONELA, Ndadi advocated policy changes within the government that abolished employment discrimination based on HIV status. He is also fighting Botswana’s decision to deny foreigners and inmates antiretroviral drugs for HIV and AIDS. Being a member of the National AIDS Council, Ndadi has used his experience and success to advocate policy changes in front of a broad audience. He has been featured throughout Botswana on radio and television programs, speaking on sensitive issues and legal matters, including HIV/AIDS and recently participated in a panel discussion organized by JCI Botswana about HIV and human rights policy. His advocacy for those affected by HIV/AIDS is a challenging journey as he strives to provide medical interventions to all in need.”

JCI (Junior Chamber International) honors ten outstanding young people under the age of 40 each year. These individuals exemplify the spirit of the JCI Mission and provide extraordinary service to their communities. Whether through service, innovation, determination or revolutionary thinking, these young active citizens create positive impacts in their communities.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), expresses sincere gratitude to the manner in which the National AIDS Council (NAC) dealt with the issues brought to the fore through its presentation of findings of a 2008 study on Men who have sex with other men (MSM) on Friday 4 June 2010.

Ms. Felistus Motimedi, the Coordinator of BONELA’s Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities, said, “BONELA is grateful to the NAC for the opportunity to present on an issue that has long been regarded as contentious, and highly commends the progressiveness in thinking exhibited by the leadership and other stakeholders present, who willingly engaged in the discussion on MSM and called for tolerance, non-discrimination and a holistic approach to service delivery to these individuals. This is a vast shift in the mindset as well as attitudes by Batswana and it is the hope of BONELA that this will be manifested in the larger society.”

In particular, BONELA was impressed by former President Mr. Festus Mogae’s leadership on the day, who spoke knowledgeably on issues that leaders are unable to openly discuss due to influence of societal belief. Ms. Motimedi added that, “We are also heartened by the Minister of Health, Reverend who passionately called for the provision of condoms, arguing that we should stop being in denial of same sex sexual activities going on in our communities as we will later regret this. We are also proud of our partners in civil society and faith-based organizations who diligently brought issues to the fore, enlightening leaders with certain aspects and supporting our cause.”

As a direct product of the meeting, Mr. Mogae called for a motion regarding these issues, upon which the Council resolved that the Minister of Health move a motion Cabinet for the provision of condoms in prisons and tolerance by health care service providers.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) applauds the Government of Botswana for amending the Employment Act which previously permitted sexual orientation and health status as a basis for dismissal form one’s employ. This is a progressive move on the part of government, which is likely to uproot stigma and discrimination within the workplace on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or health status such as HIV.

This move by the Government of Botswana shows that our leaders are determined to fight institutional discrimination targeted towards sexual minorities and will go a long way in eventually eliminating discrimination of this ‘at risk population’ within society and other service oriented institutions. Tolerance and acceptance of sexual minorities will ensure universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support, crucial for Botswana to achieve its Vision 2016 goal of zero new HIV infections by 2016.

BONELA is also excited that Section 23 (a) of the new Employment Act removes health status as a basis for dismissal from employment. BONELA has evidence that some employers were previously using HIV status as grounds for dismissal from employment, however, the Act will now curb this worrisome trend which only serves to prevent employees from voluntary testing; knowing their status and pursuing a healthy lifestyle, for fear of losing their jobs.

“As an organization, we are motivated by this move by government. Since the inception of the organization we have tirelessly worked to lobby government to include sexual minorities in policy and legal frameworks to ensure a holistic HIV and AIDS intervention, so BONELA’s advocacy efforts have been rewarded. In addition, the removal of health as a basis for dismissal is a giant leap for BONELA as a human rights organization as it is our opinion that discrimination on the basis of one’s HIV status in particular is retrogressive for any country that seeks to effectively respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Once again Botswana has proved that it is a trend setter in Africa, and we hope to see more of this kind of leadership,” said Felistus Motimedi, BONELA’s Coordinator of the Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities.

In addition, BONELA’s Legal officer, Dikeledi Dingake, said: “It is the hope of BONELA, however, that the Government of Botswana will go a step further and enact a specific HIV Employment Act. The HIV/AIDS Employment Law, as envisaged by BONELA should pay attention to matters of reasonable accommodation for those who are HIV positive, ensuring they have a safe and supportive environment to access treatment, care and support. A reasonable accommodation could be a modification or adjustment to work duties, schedule, or environment, or to the initial application process, that would enable the employee to perform the essential job duties without imposing an undue hardship on the operation of the business.”

As a human rights organization, BONELA contends that while the amendment to the Employment Act included crucial provisions that are prohibitive to employers terminating the employee’s contract on the basis of sexual orientation, health, status or disability, it falls short on providing a protective environment specifically for people living with HIV/AIDS in the work place. The absence of a law in the private sector prohibiting employers from testing potential employees also gives them a lee-way to test people before hiring and subsequently disqualify them on the basis of their HIV/AIDS, despite the fitness and capacity of the job seeker. This practice is not only discriminatory, but puts productive people who may contribute meaningfully to the country’s development at an arm’s length.

BONELA therefore calls on the government to swiftly enact a law that specifically HIV/AIDS in the workplace, if the rights and dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS are to be realized.

30 August 2010: BONELA Applauds New Employment Act – Government Scraps Sexual Orientation and Health as Basis for Dismissal

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) in partnership with the Francistown District Multi-sectoral AIDS Committee (DMSAC) will hold a Human Rights and HIV/AIDS promotional campaign on Saturday the 12th of June 2010 in Francistown. This promotion dubbed “the bash” will commence with a March at 8.00am from Tati Police Station and culminate in a Ceremony at Galo Mall.

The ceremony will be graced by the Mayor of Francistown; Francistown District Commissioner; the President of Tati Customary Court; DMSAC members and other government bodies; members of the legal fraternity; the media; corporate entities; civil society organisations; people living with HIV and AIDS; workers unions; schools and human rights activists.

BONELA and Francistown DMSAC therefore invite the public to participate in the march and the ceremony and contribute to building the required critical mass to stimulate excitement and motivation for energizing HIV/AIDS prevention momentum amongst the Francistown population.

This activity is envisaged to provide an opportunity for various stakeholders to discuss mutual interests and potential future collaboration, such as finding ways of shining the light of human rights in the national response to HIV and AIDS.

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