This piece has been prompted by reports of a secondary school girl who allegedly has been impregnated by a BDP councillor for Sebina, a village in buKalanga. Since the news about the incident broke out about a week ago there has been a hysterical condemnation of the councillor with the loudest and shrillest voices coming from feminists and opposition activists and supporters.
However, an emotional reaction to the incident cannot be helpful; what is required is a dispassionate reflection on the matter in order to identify the root cause for the phenomenon of adult men sleeping with school girls. To dissect the matter and appreciate it, we need to consider its principal components, these being men and school girls.
What ought to be clear from the onset is that for purposes of procreation, nature has burdened men with the responsibility of incessantly chasing after women for sex, whilst women sit back and wait for men to make their moves. As a result, men are wired to be permanently on a sexual predator mode; at home, at work, at church, at funerals, everywhere. This is what Tumi Modise recently described as ‘their lustful libidos and out-of-control egos’. She is right, but it is not intentional as she appears to think, men simply just can’t help it – it is in their DNA.
It was for this very reason that, for familial stability, our forefathers practiced polygamy which the modern man has mysteriously abandoned. During the era of polygamy, additional wives tended to be much younger than their husbands, and in many instances these would be teenagers, and for good reason. Girls in their mid to late teens (roughly 17 to 20 years) and young women (about 25 years and below) represent a stage where women’s attractiveness to men is at its strongest. Women at this stage of development are therefore the sexual partners of choice for virile men of all ages with very few exceptions, if any. And for adult men, nothing is more intoxicating than a teenage lover.
When and where do men interact with teenagers? This takes place at night in bars, night clubs, music shows and generally any form of drinking spots. There are two primary reasons why girls are able to go to out at night: irresponsible parenting and the so-called children’s rights.
Some parents, largely single parents, are night crawlers, leaving their children to their own devices. Without continuous guidance and monitoring especially at night, children make it a habit to go out to have ‘fun’ at night. Some parents, including single mothers, do their very best to discipline and instil responsible behaviour in their children; some succeed, but some are hampered by Western-imposed children’s rights that in many instances are not in sync with our way of life as Afrikans. There are girls from as young as primary school-going age who cite these rights – the violation of which is a criminal offence – to defy their parents and go out at night. The loud music from bars that irresistibly summons them does not help matters. Over time, some of these girls become hard core.
When most men go out at night to have ‘fun’ it is with the hope of scoring with the opposite sex. In the intoxicated subconscious of a virile man, any female at a drinking spot is considered sexually mature and is therefore fair game; otherwise society wouldn’t allow them at bars, would it? We permit school girls to mingle with men at night; men that are on the prowl for an easy lay. And a lay doesn’t come any easier than a penniless girl looking for fun.
We are told men entice and prey on teenage girls. However, men do not usually have it that easy – they face numerous pitfalls. In many instances, the so-called prey turns into a predator, and predator unknowingly becomes prey. Aware that they are men’s lay of choice, the hard cores capitalise on their sexual power and in the process acquire a deceitfulness that belies their young age. And many a man has been suckered. Songs have been composed by local artists about ‘Ma-14’ and alerting men to their sheer heartlessness. Indeed, a man lacking in street wisdom would be led on a long wild goose chase whilst shedding serious money along the way until, exhausted, disillusioned and broke, he gives up on the girl to turn his attention to mending his now shaky marriage or relationship.
The hard cores also extend their sexual power to the classroom. This is done by putting on the shortest and tightest of school uniforms and sitting improperly to entice male teachers. The weak-willed will start sexual relationships with their students, and put their careers at risk. Some hard cores would have relationships with a teacher and a fellow male student at the same time and at the same school, a thoroughly untidy situation that has led to student riots in some schools where classrooms were burnt down. And then there are the extreme hard cores, who wouldn’t think twice about blackmailing a man into parting with thousands of Pula with the threat of trumped-up rape charges – married men are a favourite target because of their vulnerability.
The vast majority of encounters between adult men and school girls take place in plain sight of society. And then the next thing you know there is crocodile tears public hysteria when an under-age school girl falls pregnant, with the hang-him-high brigade calling for the stiffest sentence possible for culprits. In terms punishment, there is basically no difference between violent rape and consensual defilement. At 10 to 15 years regardless of the girl’s age, the custodial sentence for consensual defilement is just too severe, punitive and vengeful. The punishment ought to be on a sliding scale on the basis of the age of the victim and the circumstances.
Amidst the hang-him-high brigade hysteria in the current case, the welfare of the unborn child is completely disregarded. Would the welfare of the child and its mother better served by its father spending an unproductive long spell behind bars? Surely not. Rather than a jail sentence, culprits should face a financial penalty for the benefit of the girls and the children they have fathered. In addition, these children (together with those born out of wedlock) should be made legitimate children of their fathers and assume their fathers’ surnames. Sending the culprits to jail does not serve much of a purpose because it is a poor deterrent as long as school girls continue to mingle with men.
What is the way forward? No Matter how stringent we make the punishment for defilement, these incidences will continue unabated as long as men are deliberately tempted to commit the crime. The solution is therefore to remove the temptation. Bars, night clubs and other drinking spots are places for adults and not for children, not least school children who ought to focus full time on their studies. If we are genuinely concerned about sexual relationships between adult men and teenage girls, we have to do everything to ensure that men and teenage girls do not interact, let alone have nocturnal interactions.
Since the law prohibits the sale of alcohol to those under the age of 18 years, these youngsters should be prohibited from entering all places where alcohol is sold. It should also be the legal responsibility of the owners of such places to ensure that those under the age of 18 years do not patronise their places, be it a bar, night club or festivals. To assist parents reassert control over their children, the children’s rights Act should be revisited and music in bars put to an end. Banning mothers from drinking spots should also be considered – we cannot have a situation whereby children grow free-range, leaving their nurturing to the wilds. This is how society can protect school girls from men, and not after the fact.
Finally, statistics of school drop-outs due to pregnancy are suddenly being thrown around, with an unmistaken insinuation that adult men are responsible for all or at least the majority of the pregnancies, which cannot possibly be true. A breakdown of those behind the pregnancies is required to set the record straight.
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