Sex! The world is full of it; it sells everything from shoes to cars. It’s plastered all over the Internet and the sexual awareness of our children seems to come at an ever younger age. For years the Church and other "defenders of moral integrity" have warned about the potential dangers of cheapening an intensely personal and fundamental part of human experience.
The Church has often (justifiably) accused much of the media of being obsessed with sex, but in recent months the tables have been turned, with large sections of the media making fun of the Church for its own obsession with sex; a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black! For many people the split within the Church over same sex relationships is hard to understand. â€¨â€¨Sexuality is a deeply personal issue. Whenever the subject arises it provokes strong feelings from people with all points of view. I know homosexual friends (at least one of whom is a "committed" Christian, whatever that means) who have been deeply hurt by the Church’s rejection of what they believe to be their God-given sexual identity.
At the same time, other people have been perplexed by what they perceive to be a rejection of traditional biblical teaching when same-sex relationships are felt to be affirmed from within the Church. It’s a tricky situation, with people on both sides of the debate feeling deeply disillusioned by the Church. But to be honest, it's not that tricky at all. In fact, it's pretty straightforward.
Unless God is confused. â€¨â€¨So, what is the Church’s teaching on sexuality? It largely depends on who you choose to listen to! You might think that a definitive Christian perspective on sexuality can be gained from the Bible; however, this is not as straightforward as it might seem. The gospels tell us very little about Jesus' attitude to sex; although he was keen that people be honest to themselves and to each other, hence his concerns about adultery. Most of Jesus’ more radical teachings were concerned with gaining personal, social and spiritual freedom by embracing the ethic of love.
St. Paul’s letters to the early Church speak a lot about Paul’s own view, but his teaching bears little resemblance to modern day Christian thoughts concerning sexual relationships. Paul essentially thought that sex was unnecessary except for those so weak that they had to marry to give in to the urge! Imagine saying that in a family service! Much of Paul’s thinking was probably influenced by a belief that the "end of the world" was to take place within his lifetime. He was very much a man of his own time and culture, although there are great spiritual treasures to be found in his writing. â€¨â€¨
For those seeking some mention of homosexual relationships in the Bible, the most obvious place to look is in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Leviticus. This book sets out a series of laws and practices which were to be observed by its Jewish readership. The priests of this time were very clear as to what they thought about homosexuality:
"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death, their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 20:13) Strong words indeed! So, does this mean that homosexuality is inherently sinful and against the divine order of things? Well, it might do, but we have to be careful when reading the Bible so to take into account the social and historical context in which it was written.
The book of Leviticus also forbids you to cut the hair on the sides of your head, and warns about the perils of wearing clothing made from mixed fibers; so from this we could conclude that those of us who wear nylon/ wool mix socks are in danger of losing our mortal souls! Hardly issues which vex the modern Church. More crucially, much of Jesus’ anger was directed at those whose observance of these laws led to a lack of compassion and the exclusion of people different from themselves. Something we could do well to remember when we examine our own attitudes. However, that is not to imply a tacit legitimization of homosexuality.
In the Bible, sexuality is intricately tied to gender differentiation, as it should be. God created man male and female and commanded them to reproduce. Of course, they would have a whale of a time while at it because of the pleasures of sex, but pleasure was not the object of it. For this reproduction to take place, God had to give the man and the woman complementary equipment.
He made a vagina and a penis. The penis for the vagina. Why? Because the sperm had to be transported from the male's loins via the penis into the woman's vagina, which in turn would carry the deposited sperm further up the shaft to the eggs (ovaries). There is seed in the man and eggs in the woman. This makes God's command of reproduction possible. There are no eggs in the anus. I don't need to go much further than that. â€¨
The Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith; within its pages are profound insights as to the nature of God. But we need to be very careful as to how we use it and we should never lose sight of the fact that it was written by people from a very different world to our own.
Much of what we read is deeply unsettling, and is indefensible in our own society; in the book of Numbers Moses appears to condone the murder of Midianite children and the rape of "young girls who have not known a man" (Numbers 31.18) Hardly a reliable guide to sexual morality, and a profound contradiction of Jesus’ gospel of love. These are potent arguments for tolerance even when it comes to sexual preference or orientation. But that's exactly where the problem lies.
Once you speak of "preference," you're making the issue a matter of individual choice. Once it goes that route, the individual can choose to ignore universal laws. If you speak of "orientation," you're coming in opposition towards God's word. If there was any sort of "orientation," then the Bible orientation is heterosexuality. We are admonished to speak the truth in love. â€¨â€¨Whatever our beliefs regarding sexuality, it is this Gospel of Love which we should hold within our hearts if we are to remain true to the Christian ethos.
There has been much bullying from within the institutional Church whenever the subject of sexuality has arisen, a situation which has prompted understandable derision from much of the wider society and has caused many to question their involvement with the Church. Just over two thousand years ago Jesus Christ began a radical movement in which people’s individuality and freedom were paramount; Jesus questioned conventional wisdom regarding ritual and identity, and he sought to affirm those who felt excluded.
Jesus had a way of recognizing the divine within all people, and was concerned primarily with wholeness; he was concerned that people should be whole people, and be recognized as such. In the spirit of Christ’s teaching I personally believe that a truly progressive Church should be inclusive of all people, whatever their sexuality, so that we can provide a spiritual home for a variety of people in an increasingly diverse society.
In respect of this, I feel it necessary to promote a truly broad church which is able to hold a diversity of views and traditions, or else I fear it runs the risk of becoming completely irrelevant to all but a select few; with the danger of the mainstream Church becoming a narrow cult instead of the diverse church which has served people for so long. However, this premise – a gospel of inclusion – does not mean we turn a blind eye to that which the Bible says without ambiguity or equivocation. God loves and takes us as we are, but He certainly doesn't leave us as we are simply because He loves us. â€¨â€¨
The power of the sexual urge is essential to our humanity and a deep part of who we are as people born in the image of God. Whatever our views, we shall never be a whole people or a whole church unless our sexuality is dealt with. We can never get away from sex and sexuality. We are very much sexual beings. Heck, we are products of sex!
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