Twenty years ago when the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, and on other emerging thematic issues were introduced to Botswana after the infamous ground breaking global convention in 1995, status quos were challenged, feathers were rattled and fear of the unknown crept through corridors of power.
Not only were people unsettled by what was proposed but it was clear that a lot ought to be changed to meet what was proposed. The masses on the other hand in a predominately patriarchal society were inherently mixed up by this development. It brought with it a sense of achievement for the educated middle working class women, but as for the old custodians of culture, the elderly, the Beijing platform for action was bound to bring trouble with it, not only to families but to the government as well. Dr Onalenna Selolwane a founding member of Emang Basadi Movement and a former University of Botswana lecturer, says after the 1995 convention the elderly would openly rebuke them and tell them off. “Ba ne ba re bitsa ba re bolelela gore bongwanaka tlogelang go thokela goromente maitseo,” she said.
But according to Dr Selolwane with time and a little patience from their side, they managed to garner support from traditional leaders and made them understand where they were coming from and what it is they really wanted. The problem now was with political powers. “We had thought now that we had won the support of traditional leaders, these ones that were in office because of our votes were going to be easy to deal with,” said Dr Selolwane. Unfortunatetly according to the gender activist, it has not been easy, 20 years down the line from that groundbreaking Beijing declaration, she feels though some issues may have been dealt with and rectified, the government still has to be taken to task and be held accountable for whatever is lagging behind.
Issues of equity and equality in education as far as the progression of the girl child is concerned are according to Selolwane of national importance and have to be evaluated. For an African nation that clocked one of the highest enrollment of the girl child into formal education during its pre-independence and post indepence era, Dr Selolwane says it is suprising how the same achievement is not reflecting on the number of women holding positions of powers post that era.
Gender Based Violence (GBV) figures according to Dr Selolwane need attention too, although some may say that GBV is on the decline compared to some years ago, it will be better if a zero-tolerance approach is adopted.
Though Botswana may be have other instruments in place to address gender issues like GBV, the country is not yet signatory to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. The Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu when giving a keynote address at the International Women’s Day commemorations in Molepolole on Thursday however said Botswana government was fully committed to the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Batswana as well as the fulfillment of its obligations in line with the various international, regional and national instruments. "To this end, the government of Botswana has made deliberate efforts to strengthen the legal and policy environment towards the realization of gender equity and equality in the country," he said.
While gender activists may not necessarily agree with Batshu’s claims, the Minister had documented evidence to back his statements. According to the Minister at national level, gender equity and equality is guided by among others; the constitution of Botswana, the National Vision 2016, the national Development Plan 10 which ends in 2016. The National Gender Strategic Framework, the revised population and Development Policy and the Revised National Policy on Rural Development. Batshu indicated that from the 12 critical areas identified in Beijing, Botswana prioritized six which among others included women and poverty including economic empowerment, women in power and decision making, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women and human rights of women and the girl child.
Although he stated that in order to fast track the implementation of these critical areas the country intensified its effort to strengthen the national gender machinery for the advancement of women through the women’s affairs unit which is now the gender affairs department, it later became clear that Botswana still need to strengthen further these ‘national gender machinery’ he mentioned.
For example, Minister Batshu stated that government continues to reduce poverty through social safety nets and other economic empowerment schemes. Government, according to Batshu, has already funded over 2500 women in total for the past 10 years. In addition, the government has moved to capacitate women including their exposure to local regional and international markets. He also highlighted that remarkable progress towards gender equality has been made as parity has virtually been achieved in primary and secondary education. “ The 2013 Gender Baseline Study conducted by my ministry through the Gender Affairs Department indicated that the number of females entering tertiary education were high; with 52 % at the University of Botswana, 68 % at Teacher’ Training Colleges, 58% at colleges of education and 38% at vocational training centers and only28 % at the Botswana College of Agriculture,” he said.
Remarkable as he says the mentioned areas are, it became evidently clear that Botswana has a mammoth task at advancing gender eguality and equity in spheres of power especially politics. Though he claimed that government has made progress as power and decisions making positions in that they constitute 44 % in posions of power in the public service, Batshu acknowledged that they have not fared well in accessing power and key decision making positions in the political sphere. “27 % of cabinet positions were held by women in 2002, this figure has since declined to 17 % in 2012, signifying a major reversal. This was further decreased to less than 10 % in the 2014 general elections,” he said.
Similarly according to Batshu 18.2 % of parliamentary seats were in the hands of women in 2002 and has since declined to 7 % in 2012 and below 10 % in 2014. The same trend he says can be observed in the private sector as the figure decreased from 27 % to 21% during the same period. In the Non-Governmental Organisations the figures decreased from 48 % to 46%. “This calls on all critical stakeholders to develop strategies through which the current status can be changed , may I urge all of you, therefore ladies and gentlemen to start mobilizing and preparing women for the 2019 general elections,” he said.
This year’s commemoration was held under the theme: Beijing+20: Where are We?.