BONELA Commemorates International Women’s Day: Embracing Men and Boys in Ending Violence Against Women and Children

7 March 2012:
BONELA Commemorates International Women’s Day: Embracing Men and Boys in Ending Violence Against Women and Children

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) joins the world in commemorating this year’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, themed Connecting Girls Inspiring the Future.

In Botswana as elsewhere in the region, women and girls bear the burden of HIV/AIDS in terms of incidence and prevalence rates; as well as providing care for those who are sick. Their susceptibility to HIV has also been enhanced by their marginalization in accessing education and other economic amenities and exacerbated by the lack of political will to enact adequate legislation that will guide systematic empowerment of women and protect them from abuse.

In commemorating Women’s day, BONELA is reminding the nation that whilst a lot has been done to elevate the status of women and girls, the country has a long way to go in ensuring a level playing field for women and girls with respect to issues of equality and equity in the future. In this context, BONELA is calling for Botswana to put a stop to economic, physical and sexual violence targeting women and children, in the country and in the region, that manifests as rape (including marital rape); domestic violence including passion killings as well as human trafficking and the increase in the use of rape as a weapon of war in war torn countries.

The state in its failure to put in place measures to realistically alleviate poverty, has sanctioned violence against women and girls, leaving them to resort to commercial sex work, transactional sex and intergenerational sex, which have in turn contributed to the prevalence of HIV in this cohort. Further, by not instituting policies and laws, as well as specific interventions to incorporate relevant and comprehensive empowerment of girls on sexual and reproductive health and rights in school curricula, to inform future choices on sex and sexuality, government has abdicated its role of fulfilling, protecting and promoting the right to information of women and girls as enshrined in the Constitution of Botswana.

BONELA has therefore continued to advocate on behalf of women and girls in spite of the enactment in 2008 of the Domestic Violence Act, for a holistic approach to address gaps in the socio-economic and cultural landscape that remain unaddressed and enhance their vulnerability to HIV and AIDS infection. Their marginalized socio-economic status thus renders them powerless in certain circumstances to negotiate for safer sex. BONELA’s legal aid clinic has handled only 23 cases of gender based violence, including marital rape between 2010 and 2011. This low figure is not reflective of low incidence of violence against women and girls, but rather points to under reporting and withdrawal of reported cases as a result of the adverse socio-economic and cultural issues affecting women. In the same vein, BONELA reiterates its call for the enactment of a comprehensive HIV Employment Law that will amongst many things provide protection from unfair dismissals based on one’s HIV status, and women are in the majority of victims of such reported cases.

BONELA Executive Director, Uyapo Ndadi said; “as a human rights and HIV/AIDS advocacy organization that seeks to create a just and inclusive environment for people affected by HIV and AIDS, women form a critical component of our work and this commemoration is a platform to raise awareness on human rights issues affecting them that exponentially increase their vulnerability to HIV infection”.

He added that Botswana as a country should roll up its sleeves and be proactive in addressing the historical cultural and economic imbalances that have rendered women and girls victims of sexual and gender-based violence. However, he cautioned that in doing so, a gender-based approach that embraces men and boys is imperative in elevating the status of women and girls as they do not exist in a vacuum, but live in a society that has over the years held dear values and beliefs not necessarily aligned to the aspirations of women’s equality and equity.

Ndadi said; “To this extent, BONELA will continue advocating for the recognition of marital rape as rape so that we end this continued violation of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, couched in archaic traditional perceptions of the role of a women. This has seen limited access to Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for survivors of marital rape. We also call for the Government of Botswana to commit to ratifying and domesticating the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Gender Protocol as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This call is based on the premise that for a holistic approach in the response to HIV and AIDS, issues of women and girls as well as other development issues such as socio-economic empowerment have to be addressed”.

BONELA also takes the opportunity presented by the commemoration to call for the inclusion of transgender individuals as a gender minority in HIV/AIDS programming as they have special needs which are currently unmet by existing policies, laws and interventions. This calls for Botswana to abandon its business as usual approach and adopt a rights based framework to enable tailor-made programming for most at risk populations.