GABORONE—Two HIV/AIDS organisations in Botswana are concerned about some of the comments made by Honourable Minister Sheila Tlou in her World AIDS Day speech in Tsabong.

At the 1 December public event, Minister Tlou said that HIV-positive women who fall pregnant are a “challenge” to zero HIV transmission.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) and Bomme Isago, a network of women living with HIV/AIDS, agreed with the Minister when she said in her address, “the position of Government is that every citizen has the right to have children.”

However, they were disturbed by the comment that followed: “Nobody has the right to knowingly transmit HIV or knowingly expose another person—partner, spouse or child—to possible HIV infection.” This statement wrongly and discriminatorily suggests that women are willfully transmitting HIV to their partners and children.

A BONELA fact-finding mission conducted earlier this year found that women who know their HIV-positive status before they get pregnant have difficulty accessing family planning programmes and face discrimination from many healthcare providers.

“In order to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, all women—not only those who do not know their HIV status before getting pregnant—should have access to PMTCT services in a supportive setting,” says Christine Stegling, Director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS. “A woman’s right to bear children should not be violated just because she tests positive for HIV. Instead, Botswana should take the lead in ensuring an environment that assists women’s access to information and services to allow them to make informed and healthy choices for themselves and their children.”

The Minister’s remarks are also of concern because they do not reflect the reality that many HIV-positive women are not necessarily making the choice to get pregnant.

“Research has shown that in relationships women do not have power to negotiate safe sex. The question is therefore, where do these HIV-positive women all of a sudden get power to negotiate safer sex?” asks, Grace Sedio, of Bomme Isago. “Putting the blame on women for the spread of HIV/AIDS is not part of the solution. The solution lies in us as citizens of Botswana, men and women, HIV positive and HIV negative, NGOs and government to work together and not to point fingers at one another,” she adds.

GABORONE—Justice Albie Sachs of the Constitutional Court of South Africa will give the keynote speech on emerging legal issues related to HIV and AIDS at a seminar for judges, magistrates and legal practitioners in Botswana.

The half-day event, which is being hosted the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), will begin on Saturday, 25 November 2005 at 8:30 a.m. at the Gaborone Sun Conference Centre.

Representatives of Botswana’s justice system are also scheduled to provide insight into the legal cases, precedents and challenges of HIV-related issues to the law. Justice Key Dingake of the Lobatse High Court will address the Botswana context. Mrs. Ludo Mosojane, President of the Tatitown Customary Court, will provide a perspective regarding customary law. Mr. Mboki Chilisa, an attorney representing an applicant in one of the first cases of HIV-discrimination in the workplace, will comment on challenges regarding pro bono legal representatives for HIV/AIDS cases.

“Issues related to HIV/AIDS are increasingly becoming a challenge for the justice and legal system in Botswana,” said BONELA Director Christine Stegling. “This seminar is designed to provide a forum for judges, magistrates, lawyers and other concerned individuals to explore the emerging trends and realities.”

30 October 2006
Call for an HIV employment law gains support

GABORONE - A large coalition of organisations and individuals have launched a campaign urging the Botswana Government and policymakers to put in place a law to protect HIV-related rights in the workplace.

Because such a law does not currently exist in Botswana, there is no binding protection for workers who have, for example, been dismissed because of their HIV-positive status or have been forced to undergo an HIV test before they can be considered for a job.

These and other violations of HIV-related rights at the workplace have long been concerns for the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) and the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU)—two organisations spearheading the coalition, which lists trade unions, civil society organisations and support groups of people living with HIV/AIDS among its growing number of members.

In a landmark 2003 case involving the firing of an HIV-positive employee by the Botswana Building Society, a judge ruled that while the National Policy on HIV/AIDS had strong persuasive moral authority in the court, it was not a binding law that could be applied to protect workers’ rights.  In the judge’s opinion it is Parliament’s responsibility to turn this policy into law.

Since 2002, BONELA and BFTU along with other concerned organisations have been working to have such a law created and passed.  However, the Government’s delay in enacting a law has prompted the coalition to adopt a new approach through the campaign, which boasts the slogan, “HIV EMPLOYMENT LAW. NOW!”

Botswana has waited long enough, says BFTU acting president  Patrick Chengeta. “Now we should move. The courts have announced that without a policy workers are vulnerable. The Government has a social responsibility."

As part of the campaign, the coalition is distributing a petition nationally and internationally, collecting signatures both on paper and—believed to be the first time in Botswana—online at BONELA’s website (www.bonela.org). Momentum for the campaign has grown rapidly with over 1000 individuals signing their support within the first three weeks of its launch. The collected petitions will eventually be presented to Parliament and the Botswana Government to urge action on enacting the law.

A peaceful demonstration march will also begin at 7 a.m. on 11 November in Gaborone when supporters will rally the cause from outside the National Stadium to Main Mall.

"The fight against HIV/AIDS cannot be won without a commitment to human rights, including the right to work," says BONELA Director Christine Stegling. "It is crucial that citizens and residents of this country demand their rights and show support for this bill by signing the petition, participating in the march and talking to their MPs."

BONELA is a Gaborone-based non-governmental organisation working on the ethical, legal and human rights dimensions of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Botswana.  BONELA is involved in research, training, advocacy, legal assistance and public education.

The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) is the national trade union federation for Botswana. Founded in 1977, it represents the vast majority of all trade unions in the country.

For further information or requests for media interviews for the HIV Employment Law Campaign, please contact Cynthia Lee, BONELA Media and Advocacy Officer, at 393-2516.

14 November 2006
Private sector capacity to respond to HIV/AIDS to be addressed by National AIDS Council Ethics, Law and Human Rights Sector workshop

GABORONE—A one-day capacity building workshop aimed at strengthening the capacity of private businesses to respond to HIV/ AIDS is to be held on Thursday, 16 November 2006, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC).

Ms. Tapiwa Marumo, Registrar of the Industrial Court, will deliver the keynote address at the workshop, which will bring together private business owners to assess and build their awareness of ethical, legal and human rights issues in the context of HIV /AIDS as relates to their respective industries. It also aims to build private sector capacity to mainstream ethical, legal and human rights issues into their individual responses.

The workshop is being hosted by the Ethics, Law and Human Rights (ELHR) sector of the National AIDS Council, which has been mandated to facilitate the integration of ethical, law and human rights into Botswana’s national response to HIV/AIDS.

The ELHR Sector has recently produced a report reviewing Botswana’s existing laws and policies related to HIV/AIDS. The report presents recommendations for legal reform, including changes to the Employment Act to address issues of HIV/AIDS in the workplace. It is appropriate to raise awareness among stakeholders—both employers and employees—regarding current HIV-related employment issues.

The secretariat of the ELHR Sector is the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), a Gaborone-based non-governmental organisation working on the ethical, legal and human rights dimensions of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Botswana.

For further information about this event, please contact Gladness Diana Meswele, NAC ELHR Sector Coordinator, at 393-2516

16 October 2006

The HIV Employment Law Campaign is a multi-partner campaign calling on the Botswana Government and policymakers to enact and pass a law to protect HIV-related rights in the workplace.

The campaign consists of:

  • nation-wide efforts to circulate a petition, collecting signatures of people in support of passing the law;
  • a public march and rally on 11 November in Gaborone; and,
  • an awareness-raising media campaign, which includes a billboard, posters, leaflets, radio jingles and media coverage.

The HIV Employment Law Campaign is aimed at encouraging all concerned individuals, workers, unions, students and youth to become involved in urging the government to pass such a law. They are being asked to:

  • sign the petition;
  • participate in the 11 November march and rally;
  • contact their MPs about the issue; and,
  • spread the word about the campaign.

In Botswana, there is currently no law specifically protecting HIV-related rights in the context of employment.

In the absence of such a law, individuals do not have guaranteed protection against many acts of HIV-related discrimination in the workplace. These situations include:

  • the dismissal of workers in Botswana because they are HIV positive;
  • insistence by companies that people test for HIV before they are hired;
  • denial of promotion or training opportunities because of an individual’s HIV-positive status; and,
  • refusal of time off for caregivers to care for family members living with HIV.

While there are policies recommending measures to protect the rights of people infected and affected by HIV, these policies are not legally binding. This means they are implemented only at the subjective discretion of each employer.

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