30 July 2020

BONELA URGES FIRMING UP OF PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTH
IN LIGHT OF COVID -19

The few recorded number and outline of cases of people who committed suicide in Botswana during the lockdown period alone as reported by the media and verified by Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) partners, speaks volumes about the severity of COVID-19, its effects, and the adverse impact on the mental wellbeing of the population.

In fact, it is understandable that fear, worry and stress are considered normal responses to perceived or real threats and apparent uncertainty. In any case, this is what seems to be obtaining universally as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe inducing elevated rates of stress and anxiety.

Add to this, the fear of contracting the virus and the daily spectacle of what is happening in countries that have been worst hit by the pandemic, proliferation of scary data and fake news about the origins of the virus on the internet and social media platforms. Moreover; there is trepidation owing to uncertainty regarding the remaining period of the State of Emergency still hovering over the heads and minds of the population with the possibility of lockdowns being reinstated.

The consequent disruption to normal life activities and routine or livelihoods, heightened levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug abuse as well as suicidal reactions and behavior are expected to continue and linger on for some time. This is attributable to the present outlook of the virus around the world and unclear state of progress in identifying sustainable interventions geared at ending the pandemic.

BONELA is therefore concerned that although these adversities have no regard for social or economic status, indications and empirical evidence points to sustained impact on the most at risk members of the population. These being people with mental disorders, LGBTIs, people with underlying conditions, young people and children as well as people with disabilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes mental health as a state of wellbeing, in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life and can function productively and are able to contribute in a meaningful way to their communities.

As an organization that advocates for universal access to health and making health a reality for all in Botswana, BONELA believes that indeed mental health is fundamental to people’s collective and individual ability as humans to apply themselves and think, emote and interact with each other as well as live happily and profitably.

BONELA submits that whilst everyone is susceptible to the impacts of the stressful implications of the restrictive measures in place subject to the multiple social, psychological and biological factors, more can be done in terms of mental health interventions to focus on people who are more deserving; particularly, people with existing mental disorders including depression, the elderly, children, LGBTIs, people with disabilities and migrants.

Some of the specific ways in which an appropriate environment can be created for the promotion of good mental health may include;

  • Following up on medical treatment for people with existing mental disorders
  • Initiating psycho-social support centers for people in need of counselling and coping skills and for attending to suicide related concerns including a toll free counselling service
  • Community based mental health support groups and programmes targeting vulnerable groups such as young people and children

BONELA therefore urges all stakeholders, government, private sector and Non- Governmental Organisations to mainstream mental health into their programmes and services, and to ensure access to mental health services for all regardless of health and socio-economic status.

To this end; BONELA has safe spaces in Gaborone, Francistown, Palapye, Tutume and Letlhakane where mental health services, including psychosocial support are provided.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT BONELA ON:

GABORONE : TELL | +267 3932516   FAX | +2673932517

FRANCISTOWN : +267 75958431 | BOTETI : +267 74037791 | PALAPYE: 74001186 | MAUN: 74224607

TUTUME: 77114176

June 06, 2020- SISONKE BOTSWANA ORGANIZATION AND BONELA COMMEMORATE INTERNATIONAL SEX WORKERS’ DAY

On June 2, 1975 Église Saint-Nizier in Lyon was occupied by more than a hundred sex workers to draw attention to their exploitative working conditions. Since that day, June 2nd has been set aside to commemorate International Sex Workers Day. The day is observed to honor sex workers and increase measures towards addressing violence, stigma and discrimination faced by the sex work community.

Sex workers around the world continue to face a wide range of barriers to accessing justice, both as victims of crime and when charged with crimes. Since sex work is widely criminalized, most sex workers are denied access to the benefits and rights afforded to other workers under labour laws and face the risk of detention, deportation and legal sanctions.

Although sex work is not illegal in Botswana, sex workers experience high levels of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) morbidity, violence and discrimination due to laws criminalizing aspects of sex work such as solicitation, living off the proceeds of sex work and brothel keeping; as well as other provisions of the law that have been used to target sex workers such as public disorder, vagrancy and loitering. These sections of the law are used to target and prosecute sex workers all the while fueling stigma and discrimination that leads to violence against sex workers.

According to a study conducted by AIDS Fonds, 66% of sex workers report having experienced some form of violence. “In Botswana, violence takes different forms and is perpetrated by different actors, meaning that sex workers are confronted with emotional, physical, sexual and economic violence on a regular basis.”[1] Abuse experienced originates from the family, community and from law enforcement . According to the study “[a]lmost half (48%) of respondents […] were arrested in the past 12 months. On average, respondents were arrested six times and stayed in jail for four days. Specific grounds for arrest were: being a sex worker (43%), getting caught in a police raid (41%), carrying a condom (33%), soliciting clients on the street (27%). During arrest, almost half of sex workers (49%) experienced violence, including physical violence (35%), and beatings (28%), or money (28%) and condoms (23%) being stolen. Twenty-six percent of sex workers were forced into sex during arrest.”[2]

 

Furthermore, UNAIDS and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects- (NSWP) highlight the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic exposes and exacerbates “existing inequalities and disproportionately affects people criminalized, marginalized and living in financially precarious situations and often outside social protection mechanisms”.

As a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, sex workers with underlying conditions such as HIV/TB have experienced difficulties in accessing services; HIV prevention activities are limited due to the period of extreme social distancing and resulting regulations preventing gatherings. This has affected sharing of information on self-testing, Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), consistent and correct condom use, alcohol and drug abuse, active community HIV testing and GBV active case finding and support. Furthermore, people are of the view that sex workers are responsible for the spread of COVID-19 due to the nature of their work and as thus they continue to face rights violations from communities.

Sisonke Botswana Organization and BONELA would like to remind Batswana of the plight of sex workers and difficulties they continue to face as a result of their profession. We therefore call on the Government of Botswana to take immediate action, as guided by human rights principles, to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of sex workers through:

  • Decriminalization of aspects of sex work to ensure the protection of sex worker’s rights and contribute to Ending Violence Against Sex Workers
  • Ensure access to national social protection schemes including income support during COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Stop unlawful harassment and detention of sex workers by law enforcement officers and agencies
  • Meaningful engagement and involvement of sex worker communities and sex worker led organizations in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating programming geared towards addressing their needs and challenges

Sisonke Botswana Organization and BONELA remain committed to support Government and other partners in the implementation of the above recommendations.

#SexWorkIsWork

#EndViolenceAgainstSexWorkers
For more information, contact:

BONELA : Tebogo Gareitsanye at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 73297509

Sisonke Botswana Organization : Mandla Pule at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 72923214


[1] AIDS Fonds, Sex Work and Violence in Botswana: A Needs Assessment Report, 2016

[2] Ibid

COVID-19 IN THE PRISON ENVIRONMENT

1. The world over, prisons are classified as high risk settings. Convicted prisoners and persons remanded are therefore among the most vulnerable to viral contagion. This is primarily due to congestion in prisons which makes it difficult to practice social distancing. Hygiene standards are also wanting in these environments which makes adherence to protocols recommended by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW); which require the frequent washing of hands with soap and or sanitizing a challenge, thereby exposing prisoners and those who work there to exponential risk of infection. This is also true for COVID-19. There is therefore need to proactively take steps to mitigate the outbreak of COVID-19 in our prisons as the potential to spread is infinitely higher.

2. The most significant and effective means of risk reduction in prisons is decongestion. BONELA therefore commends His Excellency, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and the Botswana Prison Service (BPS) for firstly limiting movement into prisons by suspending visits to prisoners and secondly, by decongesting prisons by granting Presidential Pardons to 149 convicted prisoners, third and lastly, by committing to testing the released prisoners before they rejoin society.

3. BONELA calls on Government - through the BPS and MoHW to put in place a triage system to assess individual risk including screening of BPS employees to mitigate the outbreak of the virus.

4. BONEA encourages the BPS to compliment this move by ensuring that allowance is made for prisoners to comply with the requisite hygiene protocols by availing clean water and soap, ensuring that surfaces are cleaned and disinfected at least once a day, and that there is access to information on precautionary measures, available services and status of the outbreak.

5. Furthermore, BONELA urges BPS to ready themselves for an outbreak by ensuring that they can provide adequate isolation for the infected, including training staff to mitigate risk and acquiring the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent transmission.

For more information, contact BONELA on:

Tebogo Gareitsanye at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 73297509

Cindy Kelemi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 73007782

BONELA CALLS FOR TARGETED INTERVENTIONS
FOR KEY POPULATIONS

Botswana has been in a State of Public Health Emergency and a period of extreme social distancing for 25 days. According to the latest reports; 22 people have tested positive for COVID -19, and as we stand on the precipice of the end of the period of extreme social distancing (or lockdown); there is need to reflect on the adopted approach and whether it is indeed inclusive, responsive and does not create further marginalisation and vulnerability, particularly for those who live on the margins of society such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Intersex and Transgender (LBGTI) persons, men who have sex with other men (MSM) and sex workers.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has observed that the LGBTI, men who have sex with other men (MSM), and sex workers already experience structural barriers to access health related services and are predisposed to socioeconomic disadvantages, mental health issues, disproportionate levels of violence, stigma and discrimination. COVID-19 and the imposed restrictions aimed at preventing and containing the virus such as social distancing and the current national lockdown, further exacerbate these barriers, disadvantages, and vulnerabilities.

As the country is prioritising COVID-19 related health services, there is need to ensure that LGBTI people, MSM and sex workers do not face an interruption of services such as those of a sexual and reproductive health nature, including access to condoms, dental dams, lubricants, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PReP), hormone therapy as well as the provision of STI screening and HIV testing. This will go a long way in ensuring that gains made in HIV prevention, care and support are not lost.

The lockdown, as important and necessary as it is, has forced the LGBTI community and sex workers to be confined with family members who in some cases are not accepting of their sexual orientations and practices. This has led to violence against these communities at the hands of their family members, stigma and discrimination. Through its Legal Aid programme, BONELA has received reports of sexual violence; particularly among sex workers. Furthermore, the lockdown has also lead to increases in anxiety and depression among these communities, consequently; leading to increased suicide rates.

BONELA therefore submits that Government of Botswana;

  1. Develop COVID-19 messaging and Q&As/FAQs, in consultation with organizations that work with the affected key populations, that respond to their specific vulnerabilities and concerns.
  2. In consultation with organizations and groups that work with the affected key populations, develop socioeconomic stimulus packages that reach key populations especially those involved in informal economies
  3. Develop COVID-19 responses that address mental and psychological health for key populations
  4. Include existing LGBTI, MSM, and sex work organizations, groups, and communities in engagement and outreach as they also play a key role in COVID-19 prevention and support services.

Moreover, BONELA urges the affected populations to;

  1. Take social interactions online in order to check in with their kin
  2. Seek out psychosocial support especially that which can be provided online or over the phone
  3. Report incidences of violence and other rights violations
  4. Follow Ministry of Health & Wellness COVID-19 prevention guidelines, practice social distancing, and stay safe at all times.

For more information, contact BONELA on:

Tebogo Gareitsanye at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 73297509

Cindy Kelemi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 73007782

BONELA CONDEMS BRUTALITY
BY LAW ENFORCEMENT

 

Last week the President of the Republic of Botswana called on the nation to trust in his leadership and guidance. These were sentiments echoed in his address requesting the Parliament of Botswana to accede to an extension of the State of Emergency for an additional 6 months to allow him to take all necessary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. In this address, President Masisi assured the nation that everything would be done in accordance with the prescripts of the Constitution, laws and regulations all the while protecting Batswana’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

The Emergency Regulations passed thereafter provided for the deployment of law enforcement officers (defined therein to include any member of the Botswana Police Service, Botswana Prison Service, Botswana Defence Force, Wildlife officers or Directorate of Intelligence Services officers), and they are limited to doing the following:

S28. (1) Where a law enforcement officer has reasonable cause to believe that a person is in violation of these Regulations, he may stop, detain, question and arrest such person and confiscate any vehicle being used by that person, if he considers it necessary so to do.

Furthermore, S28. (2) mandates the general public to ensure that the law enforcement officers are not disturbed in carrying out their duties by stating that: Any person who assaults, obstructs, hinders or resists or uses any threatening or abusive language or aids or incites any other person to assault, obstruct, hinder or resist any law enforcement officer in the execution of his duty under this regulation, commits an offence.

It is clear that under the current State of Emergency, law enforcement officers’ actions are also regulated so they may not act with impunity

BONELA was therefore shocked and disappointed to read the article published in the Botswana Gazette dated Wednesday 15th April 2020 titled “Police Abuse During Covid-19 Lockdown”. The article narrates a story of an unarmed man with a disability suffering assault, brutality, degrading and inhumane treatment at the hands of law enforcement officers due to a failure to comply with the Regulations; actions contrary to S28 (1).

Though BONELA understands and fully supports governments actions towards addressing COVID – 19 and the threat it poses to our very existence, actions such as these cannot and should not be tolerated, particularly when perpetrated against PWD who need greater care and support.

BONELA therefore calls on the President of the Republic of Botswana, commander of the armed forces and his government to make sure that while they are enforcing the laws aimed at addressing the virus, they do not subject Batswana to abuse and degradation of their dignity.

We strongly urge President Masisi to take swift action for the formation of an independent Police Investigations Unit to ensure that officers who take liberties during this time, are investigated and held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent of the law. This will allay fears that Botswana is heading into a time where rule of law and respect for basic human rights are no longer the cornerstone of our democracy.

For more information, contact BONELA on:

Tebogo Gareitsanye :This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 73297509

Cindy Kelemi : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +267 73007782

Social Media: BONELA on Twitter @bonelaethics and like our Facebook Page BONELA

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