Botswana has been dealing with a gender-based violence crisis for many years now, but recurrent lockdowns introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic further aggravated the problem. Now, the country is facing unprecedented numbers of reported instances of gender-related abuses.
It is estimated that one in three women in Botswana experienced gender-based violence at least once in their lives. Botswana is also a country with the second-highest rape rates globally, with 92.9 cases per 100 000 citizens.
Maria Mokgethi, the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs in Botswana, said that ‘gender-based violence robs women and girls of the privilege to enjoy their full birthrights and freedoms as enshrined in the country’s Constitution.’
Luckily, in recent years world leaders have started to realise the urgency of the situation, thus providing Botswana with increased support. The government of the country also stepped up efforts to provide women with better protection. In turn, women’s empowerment has improved significantly.
The causes of gender-based violence are difficult to eliminate
The problem of gender-based violence is complex. Generally, violence against women is driven by gender stereotypes and cultural norms that view women as subordinate to men. That is the case in Botswana, where the use of brutality by men is justified by discriminatory beliefs and attitudes, which maintain that men are entitled to exercise dominance over women.
The harmful preconception of women as less capable than men has resulted in notable differences in access to education and jobs, with women being at a disadvantage. Because of that, female participation in Botswana’s labour market is very low. Even if women secure a professional position, they frequently have to deal with discrimination and sexual harassment. Moreover, it is not uncommon for them to receive lower wages than their male counterparts.
Another key driver of gender-based violence is poverty. Historically, Botswana used to be one of the poorest countries in the world. That changed in 1967 when a huge diamond mine was discovered. Shortly after, Botswana saw a rapid economic growth that transformed it into a ‘middle income country’, the Borgen Project reported. Sadly, however, poverty persists in rural areas, where gender-based violence is prevalent. When families struggle to get money, tensions between husbands and wives are more likely to occur, and, for the most part, women end up suffering the most.
The gender-based violence crisis intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic
In recent months, there has been a dramatic increase in reported cases of gender-based violence in Botswana, with the majority of them happening at victims’ homes. Lorato Moalusi, the CEO of Botswana Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre (BGBVC), said that before lockdown they would see around nine women seeking help each month. During the first lockdown, this number averaged forty.
As the people of Botswana were ordered to stay at home, women who are victims of domestic violence have found themselves trapped, often having limited options to escape their oppressors. The situation became so severe that nine extra shelters had to be opened across the country.
Following the crisis escalation, twenty-five gender violence courts were established in Botswana. The goal was to ‘bring justice to victims of sexual and domestic abuse’, Thomson Reuters Foundation wrote.
Activists believe that the actual numbers of gender-based violence victims are higher than reported, but many women are ashamed and scared of reporting rape. Speaking up about the abuses puts women at risk of experiencing double trauma - the one of being raped and the one of having to share deeply upsetting details of the incident with the police.
Fortunately, thanks to creating courts that deal specifically with rape and gender-based abuses, women can feel more comfortable and safe when reporting these crimes.
Challenges remain, but there is hope for the future
In 2016, the government of Botswana developed a strategy called Vision 2036. It aims to transform the country into a high-income nation with an inclusive society. One of the goals outlined in Vision 2036 is achieving gender equality and putting an end to the discrimination of women in economic, social, cultural, and political spheres.
Suppose the plan, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is successful. Then, the quality of life of all citizens of Botswana will be improved, and women will be treated with the respect they deserve.
When gender equality is achieved, the rates of gender-based violence will decrease. For this objective to be met, however, the entire society needs to unite and work together. Still, engaging men and boys and changing the way they think about women is possibly the most significant challenge that can impede the country’s progress in the field.
Men and boys need to understand that the traditional assumptions about gender roles are harmful and that women deserve the same rights they enjoy. Moreover, teaching them about conflict resolution methods that do not involve violence is essential.
While a lot of work needs to be done to ensure that women of Botswana can live a life without fear and discrimination, the country is on the right track. In January, a law excluding married women from land ownership was abolished, giving women the right to own land irrespectively of their husbands. The change represents a milestone in advancing women’s rights.
There is, therefore, a chance that the government’s promises are not just empty words, and more positive reforms will follow.
Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, a media platform affiliated with Immigration Advice Service. Through her articles, she aims to raise awareness about security threats worldwide and the challenges facing communities living in developing countries.