As a parent and as a citizen I would like to add my voice through my pen to the many voices that have fittingly been so loud as a result of the anger that has engulfed the nation following the sad news that councillor Amon Kemmonye of Sebina has impregnated a minor; a 16 year old school going child in his constituency. The councillor whose job among others should be to raise social awareness on issues of child abuse, HIV and aids, social indiscipline, importance of education and respect of the law.
This is indeed sad, especially when this is accompanied by rumours of efforts to ‘bury the evidence’ by committing further life threatening acts of criminality (abortion) in complicity with the area MP and assistant minister of education. We are told that some investigations are on going to establish the authenticity of the purported incriminating conversation between the councillor and the area MP.
Whether such rumours are true or not, the gravity of the ‘Sebina Saga’ is very serious as it involves a leader and law maker. The very people, who should be fighting this kind of behaviour, is a perpetrator and an accomplice of this evil deed. It is also sad that the political leadership have adopted a happy-go-lucky attitude and failed to take a timely and decisive action to appropriately punish the councillor and MP for this national embarrassment. Having said this, we however need to broaden this anger, this debate and seek to find lasting solutions against child abuse going forward.
As a nation we have been failing our children for many years. We should all be ashamed of ourselves for having allowed such despicable situations to continue year on year under our watch without taking any decisive action as a nation. When we record 407 children from primary to secondary school dropping out of school due to pregnancy in one year, this must assume status of a national disaster demanding a fitting response from the authorities. These are children between 7 and 18 years old whose lives have been permanently impaired.
They will be many more such children who have been violated and abused and whose lives have been ruined for ever; there are those children who did not fall pregnant but could possibly have been infected with the dreaded HIV virus; those children who have failed as a result of this abusive behaviour by adults. We should be concerned not only about the Sebina Saga, Amon Kemmonye and the 407 students but we should be concerned about all the other children who have been violated over many years before. Concerted efforts should be mounted to bring the culprits to account one way or the other and we must enact biting laws that will curb recurrence of such acts.
The ‘women and men against children sexual abuse’ and the ‘hatch tag we shall not forget’ movement have mounted a spirited and admirable campaign to conscientise the nation about child sexual abuse by adults and to mount pressure on the authorities to act boldly without fear or favour against Amon Kemmonye and Fedilis Molao the area member of parliament and assistant minister of education who is accused of having conspired with the councillor to ‘bury the evidence’. While I accept that the truth about the involvement of the area Member of Parliament must be established, the minister must vacate his position voluntarily or must be suspended pending conclusion of the investigations surrounding his involvement. As for the councillor he must resign or summarily be fired.
Yes, it is good and commendable to have ‘the women and men against children sexual abuse’ and ‘hatch tag we shall not forget’ movement demonstrating and demanding answers mainly due to failure by government to take appropriate action. The burning question is how do we solve sexual abuse and defilement of our children? I believe there are many fronts from where we should stand and fight for our children. The immediate ones that come to mind are the following;
The government has full responsibility of safe guarding the safety and well being of the nation. The buck stops with the government of the day. The government through parliament is responsible for enacting laws that should protect our children. The sexual abuse offence perpetrated by an adult on a child should be clearly defined by the law. The definition of a child should also be clearly defined by the law. We seem to have laws that are incoherent and incomprehensive in terms of what the definition of a child is.
The age of consent is said to be 16; the age at which a child can vote and work is 18; the age at which a child can marry is 21. Normally children are at school until the age of 18 before they go for tertiary education or seek employment opportunities. At 18 years the child can work, the child can vote, the child can consent but the child cannot marry?? What does the age of consent then mean? To me it must means the age a child is graduating from childhood to adulthood and must now be held accountable for her or his actions and can thus be prosecuted for wrong doing. Further, the age of consent by definition must mean the child has graduated from childhood and can therefore marry and have a family of her own.
Once we have a clear definition of what a child, we must then have a clear definition of what a child can and cannot do from a legal point of view. The child is not a woman or a man and therefore they should not engage in sexual activities. Sex must be taboo for children. Any adult who engages in sexual activity with a child must be severely punished by the law. Such laws must come from parliament and must be stringent. The ruling party has the majority in parliament and can pass any law any time. Therefore those who say the Sebina Saga is not political and should not be politicised are mistaken. This is a problem that requires political intervention and political oversight from government in general and ministry of education in particular. We must demand accountability from our government whom we have entrusted to make laws to protect us and our children.
The role of the parents
The parents have a supreme parental role to play and guide the children on matters of sexuality and how they should protect themselves against possible paedophiles. This will come only if parents can openly discuss issues of sexuality with their children. Our culture here needs to be challenged. The children must be conformable to talk to their parents on issues of sexuality especially if anything that looks or feels like sexual advance is made by the opposite sex. Our culture that says we cannot discuss sexual matters with our children is no longer relevant in this day and age of television and social media. We have to empower our children more to counter the negative impacts of television, social media and the ‘sick’ people in our society.
The role of the community
The community must be drilled through Kgotla meetings and social gathering that children are children and should be treated as such. They cannot be treated as women or men.
The old culture that used to exist in our country where a child was a child of all the adult community members must be restored for the sake of our children and our dignity as a nation. Our culture here must be upheld and enhanced. We used to have traditional schools for girls and boys. These traditional schools were for children graduating from childhood to adulthood. The children used to spend time in the bush with the adults being drilled on what adulthood mean. These schools were called ‘bojale’ and ‘bogwera’ for girls and boys respectfully. Some tribes still practice these very important rituals but they have lost their original meaning in many respects. This is the culture that we should modernise to take into account legal and health issues, practise it and possibly sell it to the world as a national product.
The role of schools
This is where our children spend most of their time. The teachers have perhaps the biggest influence on our children, in many cases more influence than that of their parents.
Most of our children have deep respect for their teachers, so our teachers are role models of our children. They must be moral upright and endevour to teach our children not only book knowledge but life skills and moral education. Our teachers must be empowered and incentivised to be more than just classroom teachers. Many children if not all hold teachers in the highest esteem, I still do even after many years. Hence the behaviour of teachers is very important as it could influence our children positively or negatively.
The school environment should be used to mould our children into God fearing, moral upright and responsible people who are being groomed for future leadership that will not only take our country to higher levels of prosperity put also to higher pedestals internationally.
In conclusion we must use the Sebina Saga to concientise our people young and old, our politicians of all colours and persuasions that the status quo must be reversed immediately. We need to use this sad saga to come out better as a nation. Parliament and government must lead the way by immediately coming up with appropriate legislation to protect our children.
As a nation we need to revisit our cultures and modernise what we can to cement who we real are as a nation. As we prepare to celebrate our 50 years of self rule we must seek to define what we have collectively achieved as a nation. What have we, as Batswana done to build a Botswana brand? What is it that we are proud of that we can call our very own? Our cultures have unique components that we can build on to protect our children and be proud.
As for Amon, he must go immediately. This gesture although belated would be a fitting apology to the nation; otherwise he will continue to embarrass himself and his party. As for Fedilis, he must do the honourable thing and resign or be suspended; otherwise he will be an ineffective minister devoid of any respect associated with that office.
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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