Rebecca (not her real name, of course) was gang-raped by a group of 20 armed men in Harare! Hair-raising news of this nature is always hitting news headlines.
In fact Rebecca 's ordeal is a summarized version of what is happening not only in Harare, in particular, and the entire country, in general, but across the globe, where hardly a day elapses without having heard that so and so got raped.
The problem, as I see it, revolves around patriarchal cultures. Such cultures do encourage men to have incredible sexual prowess and to take delight in feeding on a diet of sexual aggression, a phenomenon that normally finds expression in rape or promotes rape. This is the entry point of gender based violence.
Despite some protestations to the contrary, most, if not all societies, the world over, are patriarchal, that is male dominated. Save for a few countries such as India, Malawi and Botswana, all other countries in the world are deeply rooted in male domination. And the cultural gown of patriarchy has a few patches of matriarchy. Ironically, this was also the case with the U.K, during the Victorian Age (1837-1901) , in spite of the fact that Queen Victorian was the major player in the title picture then , and hence the use of such terms as ‘anaclitic love’ and ‘masochism ‘(taking delight in suffering) for women ‘and’ nascissism’ for males.
But what is culture? According to the Merriam Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus ,cited in Encyclopaedia Britannica (2015) ,it is 'the integrated pattern of human knowledge ,belief and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations .It is the customary beliefs ,social norms ,and material traits of a racial ,religious or social group'. In other words it is everything that sets one group of people apart from others as a distinct entity and encompasses such phenomena as dressing, language, mannerisms ,customs, norms and values and the whole way of life of life, in general.
Culture influences our world outlook (philosophy), in general, as reflectedenshrined in both our religion and laws and this was and is still mirrored in our behaviour and devil-may-care attitudes towards women. Sadly Attitudes are die-hards, especially bad ones .Unlike intelligence, that is inborn, culture is acquired through socialization, a life-long process by which the norms and values of society are inculcated into one from birth to death.
In a classical patriarchal society men perceive women as sex toys to manipulate or objects of male sexual gratification. And the situation is even worse in societies where recreational facilities are very scarce and abusing women becomes a form of entertainment. From a tender age young boys are taught poems which glorify sex, poems which they have to rote learn stanza by stanza .And by the time they reach adulthood they would be able to rehearse those poems up to mountain tops and having to unlearn that message overnight is a mammoth task.
I need to repeat ,for emphasis ‘sake , that even in this age of enlightenment ,indeed nothing pleases a man ,who is worth his salt, more than the mere knowledge that he is responsible for the emotional being of a multiplicity of sexual partners. Which is why male polygamy, known as polygyny, and not the female polyandry one, is mostly fashionable. Which is also why even King Solomon, in spite of the fact that he is the wisest known man, had 700 wives and 300 concubines. (1 Kings 11:3ff).
Such men have an unquenchable sexual appetite and it is no hyperbole to assert that they would salivate at the mere sight of a woman. Against this background, men who fell prey to HIV/AIDS and other STDs were ironically glorified 'Bhuru rinorwa rinoonekwa namavanga'(A bull that has fighting prowess can easily be identifiable through its multi bruises!.) In a bygone era an ideal man had to have extra-ordinary abilities of seducing as many women as possible.
In sharp contrast to women who were animals of prey, men were marauding sexual predators and armed to the teeth with Cupid ‘(the Greek god of love) s bows and arrows to hunt in a thick jungle of love where his arrow rarely missed targets. If this intimacy cannot be attained through fair means then it must be through foul ones such as rape .In this regard ,some sex crazy men ,and macho women alike, are daring to , and are always ready and raring to use magic ,known as mubobobo ,in order to sexually ravage a person who has never given consent to and is not even aware that someone else is busy feasting on her him.
Needless to say, a patriarchal society is highly macho and its machismo is demonstrable through the subordination or violation of the rights of women. Rape is thus one of the many tools or instrument of bringing women under control! During war times the situation is even worse when members of the weaker sex are gang-raped in-order to boost the ego of these men as well as serving the insatiable sexual drive of sex starved soldiers. In case the reader is of a nervous disposition, this writer will not venture into the plight of illegal female travellers who suffer at the hands of these gang rapists at border posts. And during war-times it was not uncommon for soldiers to rape a ‘sell-out ‘’s wife in full view of the husband as a way of punishing him. But who is the victim here? And what is rape?
By definition rape is a deviant and or forcible sexual encounter between a man and a woman. In most jurisdictions, ( in which the offence is regulated by the Roman Dutch Common Law), this offence ,as evidenced by its definitional elements ,can only be committed by men save for a few countries like Botswana. Though it is mostly men who are rapists some women are also perpetrators of this vice and hence we see in Genesis 39:6-15 ,for instance ,Portipher 's wife almost forcing herself onto young Joseph ,the romantic magnet who was renowned for his ‘’beauty’’.Which is why in such countries as the latter the term has had to be redefined and is now gender neutral`
It is defined as' any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of another person, or who causes the penetration of a sexual organ or instrument ,of whatever nature ,into the person of another , for the purposes of sexual gratification ,or who causes the penetration of another person ‘s sexual organ into his or her own person ,without the consent of such other person ,or with such person ‘s consent ,if the consent is obtained by force or means of threats or intimidation of any kind ,by fear of bodily harm ,or by means of false pretences as to the nature of the act ,or, in the case of a married person ,by personating the person ‘s spouse ,is guilty of the offence termed rape’(section 141: of the Botswana penal code) .
According to the modern ,statutory , definition the offence of rape is not confined to reproductive organs but also through any object such as a broom and through any opening such as the nose, ear and mouth if it is for sexual gratification!. Because patriarchy protects female offenders and discourages male victims from laying a charge, due to potential scorn from mainstream society, these culprits will continue with their deviant sexual practice. As a result patriarchy promotes female rape also. After all, and as mentioned earlier on, the well-to –do ,over-assertive women , do brag that they are also men and hence the machismo qualities.
This writer will also include both marital and statutory rape. Statutory rape (defilement) ,though it involves consent, that consent is not informed given that the victim has not reached a level of mental development to a point whereby shehe fully appreciates the nature and or implications of the act. Obsessed with the desire to feel youngish, some old sugar daddies and, jelly mummies alike, deflower the youngsters and that is indeed disturbing. How about girl children who are peddling their flesh? .Could her client also be dragged before the courts for statutory rape?
Marital rape, on the other hand, is non-consensual sexual encounter occurring within the bedroom between spouses. Unfortunately countries which are rooted in the patriarchal Roman -Dutch Common Law have the marital rape exemption clause which says there is no rape within wedlock. According to this reasoning, the payment of lobola , an integral part of our highly patriarchal African culture ,means a wife has surrendered her conjugal rights to her husband ,even if she suspects that her husband has a risky sexual behaviour which can easily put her life in danger.
Due to lack of time and space, this writer will not venture into forced wife inheritance, another aspect of a patriarchal culture, and this practice also amounts to rape. Other similar victims are girlfriends who are raped during dates. And even 'ladies of the night' in some cases fall prey also.
Perpetrators of rape usually raise such lame excuses as: the lady is my girl-friend or whore; the woman was moving alone at an ungodly hour; that the victim did not fight back or scream for help(As we have noted in the statutory definition above rape does not always involve physical force); that in agreeing to come for a date she was prepared for this eventuality; that the victim was putting on such provocative outfit as the so-called miniskirt which was in essence nothing but a belt wound around her waist in such a way that nothing was left to imagination , thereby moving around naked and therefore advertising her thighs; or putting on a skin hugging outfit that tends to hug one 's body in such a way that people can easily enumerate all the contours of her mountainous pair of guitar-shaped bums.
To the man concerned the lady was beckoning at him through action and action speaks louder than words. The macho-man would not want to betray his manhood by letting ‘the offer’ go. It is very strange indeed ,but not surprising in these macho societies , that men would want to prescribe what women should wear while the latter sex is not allowed that right and this is unconstitutional.(see section 15 of the Botswana Constitution on the Equality and Non Discrimination Clause).After all ,due to global warming ,the weather is getting hotter and hotter with each passing day and ,women ,through miniskirts ,need fresh air and ,besides ,our democratic societies’ law provide for freedom of dressing.
Additionally, dressing does not have a bearing on whether or not one’s conduct is decorous or has the praiseworthy features of human conduct. Also our constitutions provide for freedom of movement (see section 14 of the Botswana Constitution).
Be that as it may, as long there was no consent the common denominator is force and hence rape. The ground of justification, in a charge of rape, is consent, known in Latin as volenti non fit injuria. This defence must comply with a number of requirements and one of them is that it must have been given before the act. This means if the victim withdraws that consent before or during the encounter and the culprit nevertheless proceeds against the wishes of this ‘sex toy’, he can still be convicted of rape. In the same vein consent should not be after the act (post facto).
The following circumstances, inter alia, make a person incapable of consenting: those sleeping, in a drunken stupor, under hypnosis or the insane (an exception, however, is, in principle, during the lucidum intevellum period), youthfulness. In some extreme cases someday old toddlers oftentimes fall victim to such sexually avaricious men. Maybe toddlers are also expected to be in long nappies too! That is a show or manifestation of manhood and it is hardly surprisingly then that men are oftentimes equated to a bull which hardly recognizes any boundaries when it comes to sex .Sadly, this archaic perception of manhood used to be an integral part of our culture.
Such sick rapists, most of whom are business tycoons, do that out of the mistaken belief that this practice may boost their business fortune. Others harbour the misconception that intimacy with kids would cure their HIV/AIDS status and false prophets and medicine men are equally to blame for spreading this myth. Similarly, such spiritual men, whose minds are rooted in patriarchy, tend to force themselves onto their clients who are desperate for a cure or, alternatively, misrepresent the nature and or effects of the act.
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.
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
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