BONELA slams ‘Business as Usual Approach’ in Responding to MARPS and HIV/AIDS

2 February 2011:
BONELA slams ‘Business as Usual Approach’ in Responding to MARPS and HIV/AIDS

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) wishes to set the record straight regarding its position on advocacy for most at risk populations (MARPS) such as people living with HIV; people living with disabilities; children; women; prisoners; refugees; lesbians; gay; bisexuals; trans-genders (LGBTI); and sex workers, following the recent news release issued by the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana (EFB) on the 1st of February 2011. 

Whilst we appreciate the position of the church which is fully informed by morality, we respectfully differ with them not on moral grounds but on pragmatic reasoning. 

BONELA thus wishes to state the following:

  1. BONELA was founded to ensure that human rights are a reality in the response to HIV and AIDS. This was after the realization that the unaddressed gaps in Botswana’s interventions, namely, lack of universal access to prevention and support services for MARPS; stigma and discrimination and a non-conducive legal framework were creating barriers to successfully responding to HIV and lowering transmission rates.
  2. This being said, BONELA is neither creating nor promoting sex work or homosexuality. Thus:
  3. Our interventions are practical and consistent with human rights and public health goals in holistically addressing HIV and AIDS. BONELA thus advocates for equality, non-discrimination, inclusiveness, the right to dignity and the right to privacy as espoused by the Constitution of Botswana to support the nation’s public health goal of achieving zero new infections by 2016.
  4. We thus commend the Government of Botswana for acknowledging sexual diversity as evidenced by the amended Employment Act that entrenched the job security of non-heterosexuals. In addition, the National Strategic Framework II recognizes the need to address MARPS in the response to HIV and AIDS. This buttresses the fact that the challenges of today posed by HIV and AIDS demand the need to move away from a “business as usual” approach where lives are at risk.
  5. BONELA wishes to remind EFG that our people derive protection and equality from the Constitution of Botswana that seeks to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority and not the Bible or Koran. 
  6. EFB’s idealistic position is not offering solutions but basically calls on Batswana to turn a blind eye to the reality of MARPS and HIV/AIDS. We cannot afford to embrace this approach as a nation for it is counter-productive. We otherwise risk continuing high incidence rates of HIV and AIDS.

BONELA wishes to caution the church and urge it to tread carefully, lest its position breeds intolerance in the country against MARPS. We should learn from countries such as Uganda where homophobia is high resulting in the loss of lives. MARPS are human beings and should be accorded due respect and dignity which form the basis of good social standing in society.

Lastly, BONELA would like to commend the Botswana Council of Churches for proactively engaging sex workers through a rehabilitation and economic empowerment programme.