“A young girl aged 12 offered in marriage to an octogenarian polygamist who already has 10 wives!”
A local newspaper carried that story. And hair-raising stories of this nature feature prominently in the news. Some prophets of doom have attributed this phenomenon to some of the signs of the times. I certainly beg to differ. You were also told that this development is caused by unfriendly economic times bedevilling our society but I say unto you: The problem, as I see it, is mostly gender related. This article is in two phases: Today it will capture the definition, manifestation and implications of gender on the rights of the girl child and in the oncoming epistle venture into the way forward.
What is gender? According to both common nonsense and everyday English parlance, the term gender means sex. Admittedly, the two terms are synonyms but can hardly be employed interchangeably. Could they? A big “NO’ indeed. The term sex, on one hand, is a concept that is biologically determined and deals with whether one is either male or female and that determination can be perceived with the naked eye.
For example, if we doubt someone’s sex we can easily ask him to strip nude naked and invade his private sphere.Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct .It is sociologically determined andor comes from socialisation. In line with this reasoning ,the American psychoanalyst ,Robert Stoller, as cited in Sociology in Perspective by Mark Kirby et al, distinguishes sex and gender, and rightly so ,in the following manner:
——–the anatomical features which mark out men and women might be labelled as ‘sex’ while ‘gender’ is culturally constructed’ (1997:161).
Sociologically speaking, socialisation is a process by which the norms and values of the society are inculcated into one from birth to death. It is the politics of the sexes or what we associate the sexes with. Here we are talking about masculinity and femininity. Also included in the universal set are concepts matriarchy and patriarchy, the latter of which encourages the subordination of women and the attendant glorification of macho societies.
If I were to pose and ask you right now about what God‘s sex really is, the most spontaneous response, and ironically from women themselves, for that matter, will surely be that He is male. That response is quite understandable because it is how we have been socialised. Women are expected to be emotional while men must be rational.
Men must also be stoical and indifferent to pain. I am sure those so much into literature would remember the tragic hero, okonkwo, in Chinua Achebe‘s “Things Fall Apart” and he is a summarised version of a classic description of manhood. The problem, as I see it, is deeply rooted in our culture and, sadly, our culture is male dominated. It is deeply rooted in patriarchy.
Since the earliest of the times women have been portrayed as sex toys or objects of male sexual gratification. I am sure those who have witnessed them dance in a sexually suggestive manner would understand what this writer means here. The dancing style speaks volumes and seems to be confirming or lending credibility to such claims and stereotypes. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when parents buy a toy for the girl child it is almost always a doll while the boy child gets a toy gun or model car.
Parents are thus re-enforcing the view that getting married and procreating children is the ultimate good in life for the girl child. The afore described is the ascribed role forof women and there is virtually nothing more pleasing to a woman than the mere prospects of getting married.
From a tender age the girl child is taught how to please her prospective spouse in bed and this ‘apprenticeship’ is attained through various initiation ceremonies .Against that background ,the girl child has been rushing to get married at a very tender age and at the slightest given opportunity in order to put the newly acquired theory into practice.
When in times of financial crises such as the ones obtaining in Zimbabwe at the moment, parents are always ready and raring to have the girl child pull out of school in favour of the boy child who, it is erroneously believed, is the only one who can maintain the family name. Perhaps, to borrow Chinua Achebe‘s philosophy, in” Things Fall Apart”, the boy child can best be enlikened to; One of “— the young suckers that will grow when the old banana tree dies”
An idle mind, they say, is the devil’s workshop. Those girls idling around, and out of school, would want to seek solace in marriage. In some extreme cases the girl child is offered in marriage to a well-to –do man by her poverty stricken parents in exchange for money, the root cause of all evils. Which is precisely why in a sense some people link this problem to economic ills besetting the society .Again this writer does not totally subscribe to this amateurish reasoning because if it were so this problem should then affect both the girl and the boy child and not just one sex being at the receiving end.
Some primitive communities still practice that ritual of giving away a virgin girl child to a murdered person‘s relatives as part of payment to appease the angry spirits. As a result, the unfortunate girl gets married to the deceased person‘s relatives even if she does not approve of the marriage, let alone, love the man concerned at all.
For fear of opening up the proverbial Pandora’s Box, I would not venture into certain religious sects’ practices of arranged marriages between extremely young girls and very old church members under the guise that such marriages would have obtained God’s seal of approval. All this is a gross violation of the girl child‘s fundamental right to freedom of association.
Needless to say, the macho society encourages men to feed on a diet of sexual aggression, that is rape, as a way of subordinating women and, unfortunately, these women also include the girl child. Instead of having the culprits prosecuted for this act of criminality, the girl‘s parents would rather have the perpetrator marry the young girl victim.
Perpetrators of rape on the young girls include those HIV positive who erroneously believe that being intimate with young people would help cure their ailment and also misinformed business tycoons who have an uncanny propensity of directing their sexual venom into the girl child out of the mistaken belief that such a sexual encounter would boost the latter‘s business fortune.
Lest you forget -a typical macho man believes that deflowering and marrying young virgins would surely boost his ego and to him it is part and parcel of trophy collection! And what are the implications of this tendency onto the girl child?:
Apart from exposure to HIVAIDS, the girl child is being thrust into the world of adulthood earlier than was the case in the yesteryears. Without the much needed education, a catalyst for the acquisition of economic resources, the empowerment of women, a concept that has gained popular usage in recent years, will always remain unrealistic, if not romantic.
Furthermore, the girl‘s mind is still naive and therefore exploitable given that she has not been exposed to the vulgar aspects of life. That makes her ill-equipped to deal with life‘s challenges as a wife and parent, for that matter, while her so-called husband does have an inexhaustible wealth of experience in that regard. Coupled with these misfortunes, the girl child cannot realize her immense potential, not even an iota, and the nation at large cannot derive maximum benefit out of that potential.
The sad reality is that our legislation hardly makes considerable strides in righting the current wrong in which women, in general, and the girl child ,in particular, are treated ,at best ,as playing second fiddle to their boy counterparts ,and , at worst, as if outside the bounds of normal society.
This flaw is understandable given that legislation ,just like customary law and the Roman-Dutch Common law, reflects the interests of males: customary law is a product of the historical development of the so-called culture which ,as already alluded to, is largely patriarchal in nature. All Roman-Dutch scholars were either male or were influenced by patriarchy.
Across the globe there are just a few islands of female legislators in a vast sea of male ones. You need to know that before a law comes into existence it starts off as a Bill and, of course, in order for it to pass a litmus test it must have been subjected to rigorous voting. In their sane minds men would never vote for a Bill that is potentially prejudicial to their own interests but, instead, one that tends to marginalise women.
The bible, also, cannot go un-accused in this regard because all the 5 books of the Old Testament were written by a man, Moses, who was motivated by the desire to elevate both patriarchy and the Abrahamic tradition. Those who wrote after him, though there are some slight variations here and there with the Mosaic ideas, were simply freshening his ideological skeleton.
In conclusion, the reader must have noted that the problems affecting the girl child are neither natural nor God-given but result from socialisation in which patriarchy plays centre-stage .In as much the same way they can be changed through the same tool, socialisation. See you next week.
Kungwengwe Star Charles Is a law lecturer at Gaborone University Of Law In Botswana and a self-styled gender activist.
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