In Botswana, most women will experience some form of violence in their lifetimes, and that’s with the amount reported estimated to be about 24 times less than what is actually happening. One in ten girls’ first sexual encounter is rape, and it is not uncommon for teachers to have relationships with students with others turning a blind eye, woman to lose rights to any property if their spouses die. In my short time here, I have heard countless stories of and seen the damage of rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and murder suicides, sensationalized as “passion killings” by the local media.
For a country often herald as the ‘gem of Africa” and whose citizens pride themselves on their peaceful nature, there is staggering amount of violence against women and children and a slew of unhealthy relationship habits to boot.
Cue Voices of the Community, the fledgling group of women and men working together to eliminate violence from relationships in my district. The group ran a 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign; an accomplishment not only in those we reached, but for the juvenile group to run such a large event. The team held a youth day full of art, healthy relationships, and games of course; outreach at the center of town, distributing white ribbons (symbolizing standing up against violence) and discussing GBV with the community; members went to their churches to videos and leading discussions; we held a final closing event that, in spite of an all day downpour and non functional cell phone network, had solid attendance and engaged the audience.
One of the highlights of a long, frustrating, and satisfying two weeks was the In Her Shoes activity for government workers, which teaches empathy for those experiencing abuse. This activity provided some of the most wonderful and surprising moments of the 16 days- we had open, nearly tolerant conversations about homosexuality and managed to approach it as a human rights issue, and this in a country where homosexual acts are outlawed. There was also a member of the District AIDS Office that I frequently work with; he is often found feet propped up and newspaper out in the office. Yet for this activity, he actively participated and made meaningful comments about gender, the role of service providers, and wants us to do more of those trainings for other offices.
In spite of all of the running around Gumare in the heat, stressing over transport and whether or not the ribbons would arrive in time, and downpouring rain when you least want it, 16 days is the perfect example of a project coming together (albeit often late and occasionally looking nothing like what you planned) and making it all worth it.
|Voices showing off their white ribbons|
|Our fearless leader on Youth Day|
|March against gender based violence in Gumare|
|Blind condom races, always a favorite|
|The Voices team!|