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This year I pledge to be a better road user

MAATLA OTSOGILE
 

The beginning of a new year is generally a time of reflection and resolution making. Usually, resolutions are about changing negative behaviors, adopting positive ones, achieving goals, etc. many of us have already drawn up our resolutions for the year ahead – mapping out all that we want to achieve this year. But while drawing up our resolutions this year, how many of us thought to include the following resolution – “this year I pledge to be a better road user – not only to protect myself but the lives of other road users on our roads?”


I  know its probably not one of the most exciting new year's resolution to take this year but think about this, if your life is ruined by a road crash, if you are seriously injured, disabled or even killed then how will you tick off all the other resolutions this year?  This year, as Society of road safety ambassadors (SORSA), we pledge towards reaching citizens across the country, both young and old in a bid to not only drive awareness around responsible road behavior but to use this awareness to drive change on our roads. ).

 

We are also committed to looking at partnering with the government, private sector and church, to ensure we can drive broader awareness and continued focus on creating safer roads for all.  Reflecting upon the past year, I am most struck about the number of road crashes we had. The news and social media has been awash with reports of such road crashes across our roads in Botswana. Last time I checked, we had already lost 446 lives on the road as of end of year; an increase from the 2015 figures of 411 fatalities and 377 fatalities in 2014.

This increase in number of fatalities is a tragedy. After achieving the lowest fatalities on record in 2015 and 2014, we have now seen increases for two years in a row. (The 2016 road crash fatality statistics are preliminary at this stage and may change as a result of police investigations. The final statistics will be able to be confirmed later in the year.).

 

Mind you, It’s not about the numbers, it’s about individual people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, neighbors, colleagues and friends, who needlessly lose their lives, creating a lifetime of sorrow and grieving for those left behind. I extend my sympathy to those who have lost loved ones and those who have suffered life changing injuries. Every death is tragic and will have brought enormous suffering to families, friends and communities.

 

It’s a fact that some families and communities across Botswana are starting a new year coping with the loss of loved ones killed in road accidents. For others involved in serious collisions, it can mean coping with life changing injuries requiring substantial medical care which can be very costly. They sometimes lose limbs and are often left with chronic pain, impaired mobility, and a reduced ability to function independently. This maiming can have a huge negative impact on one’s quality of life and well-being- both physically and mentally. Crash victims can experience anxiety, sleeplessness, post-traumatic stress, difficulty maintaining relationships, etc.


While we watch heartbreaking stories of people losing their precious lives, hoping it never involves our own families It’s time to make that New Year resolution to improve our driving. Those statistics have shown, once again, that we all need to pledge towards being more responsible road users to address this. Yes, an opportunity is looming to turn those statistics around by making a New Year resolution about our driving patterns and playing a personal part in helping to reduce this road trauma.

 

This just the right time to make changes for the better and some simple shifts in your driving that could make a huge difference to you and those around you. Making the roads a safer and less stressful place could be the easiest resolution you can make – and keep. The following bad habits should be left off: Driving too close to other vehicles, skipping the red light, driving too slowly, driving too fast, using the road under the influence of drugs and alcohol, road rage and driving without a license.


In my opinion, the problematic behavior at the root of most of these issues is the same one- a lack of obedience and empathy and that is something that must be tackled head on, by all Batswana. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand the feelings of another; to put yourself in another person’s shoes, so to speak. Empathy and obedience are key to a healthy and well functioning society- otherwise chaos and strife will rule.

 

Sadly, it is clear in which direction the pendulum has swung in Botswana today.Road safety- or the lack thereof- is one clear illustration of this lack of obedience and empathy. When one drives recklessly, at an excessive speed, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are endangering not just themselves but everyone in their path- passengers in their vehicle, pedestrians, bicyclists, and all others on the road.

 

The killing of otherwise healthy people by drunk and reckless drivers is a blow to society as well as their families. Statistics show that the majority of traffic fatalities are working-age individuals. These individuals are often key salary earners and contributors to their families, and their untimely deaths represent a substantial loss to the economy.


Cultivating greater empathy for one another needs to be at the forefront of all efforts. Every driver needs to think about other road users as people with lives and loved ones, dreams and goals just like them, not just someone “in their way” or to be outrun. They need to realize that driving recklessly or when impaired has seriously consequences. Stiff penalties can play a key role in deterrence. Young people need serious drivers’ education and corrupt practices such as the purchasing of licenses, must be eliminated.

 

Peer pressure/support also has a crucial role to play in behavior change. Relationships with people who are supportive of behavior change, and who can suggest alternatives and reinforce positive change are essential. It is not necessary to consume alcohol or drugs in order to have fun. Friends and family members should pay attention to the behavior of their loved ones, and be alert to signs of alcohol/drug abuse or impairment.

 

Just a little bit of planning ahead- deciding on a designated driver, or putting aside money for taxi fare- can mean the difference between life and death. In terms of speeding, passengers in public transportation must not be afraid to raise their voices and concerns to the drivers of the vehicles. Statistics also shows that most traffic fatalities are pedestrians. This is where empathy comes into play again. Going slower and sharing the road with others can only add years to one’s life; impaired and reckless driving is a sure recipe for disaster.


This carnage on our roads can be contained. The change starts with each of us. We are all road users. Let us all therefore commit to playing our part on the road to zero road deaths. Note- I am deliberately not using the term ‘accident’ to describe these deaths. An accident is something that happens without warning, unexpectedly. Things that can be prevented are not accidents. The lives snuffed out due to reckless and impaired driving are loses that could have been prevented, not ‘accidental’ deaths.

 

Therefore this new year, let us resolve to be more responsible and safer drivers. Let’s stop accepting death and serious injury as just part and parcel of using our roads. We need to work together – the NGOs, government, the community, police and businesses and importantly every road user to reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Parents have a very significant role to play in helping their children to stay safe on the road. The best possible advice for any parent is to be a good role model.

 

Don’t be the parent to take that quick phone call when driving or to have a couple drinks before getting behind the wheel. How you drive as a parent will set the standard for the young upcoming drivers. The Police need more breathalysers and radar guns to apprehend speeders and drunk drivers. They also need to stop taking bribes to look the other way and let perpetrators go free.

 

There needs to be better enforcement and consistent application of the law, with all law breakers being equally penalized, instead of different standards for those with more economic, social, or political power. Official flouting of the laws- by Police as well as other ‘big ones’ in society- are a massive part of the problem for their behaviour sends a message to others that these crimes are not serious and that they too can act with impunity.

 

As citizens, we need to call for greater accountability and better service from all the public officials who, as servants of the people, are mandated to protect and serve all equally. Increased lighting and other physical safety measures must also be implemented, drivers better educated, and bars and other establishments selling alcohol engaged in the campaign.


We have to avoid another year tarnished by road trauma and together we can do this starting with early by making a pledge to be quality road users this year. This new year, let us resolve to cultivate more obedience and empathy for others, especially those sharing the roads with us. Let us resolve to be more responsible and safer drivers. This, along with greater accountability and proper, fair implementation of the laws is key to improving road safety in Botswana.


Together we can all play our part in radically reducing the road toll and making 2017 a year to remember for all the right safe reasons. With that said – how will YOU contribute towards safer roads this year?


Maatla Otsogile is Coordinator – Society of road safety ambassadors
Email  sorsa.ub@gmail.com  sorsa.ub@gmail.com

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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