A long-standing African proverb suggests that while one may achieve speed by going alone, the journey becomes enduring and prosperous when undertaken with others.
This wisdom extends to various contexts, including the impetus behind the social campaign against gender-based violence. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence urges individuals, organizations, institutions, and states to move beyond acknowledging gender-based violence as a deplorable issue. Instead, they are called upon to confront the tangible and moral costs associated with it, recognizing that no society can afford to bear such burdens. This annual campaign unfolds from November 25th, extending into December.
Despite Botswana being lauded as a development success story, there exists a lesser-known reality about the country. The 2011 Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Indicators study by the United Nations Development Programme in Botswana revealed startling statistics on the pervasiveness of gender-based violence. Notably, sexual violence has gained prominence over the years, reflecting global trends. Unfortunately, women and girls are often targeted solely due to their existence, making them vulnerable to such violence.
The study found that “almost 70 percent of the women interviewed had experienced GBV at least once in their lifetime”. Furthermore “nearly 30 percent” had experienced violence over that past year. The Feminist Alliance of Botswana – an open, voluntary group of intersectional feminists who believe all women should enjoy the right to live in an environment free from all forms of sexual harassment and violence – has stepped forward to build social consciousness about the many ways such statistics could be true. “In Botswana, sexual harassment is rampant across private and public spaces, socio-economic divides, and industries”, reads a statement by the collective, expounding “yet many people do not understand what constitutes sexual harassment, how to report it, or how to address it appropriately.” Over the course of the 16 days dedicated to the fight against gender-based violence, The Feminist Alliance of Botswana (FAB) will run a multimedia campaign to address just this.
The “Rragwe T” campaign is a targeted initiative of the Feminist Alliance Botswana (FAB) that aims to get men and boys to understand that the unwelcomed ‘compliments’ they hurl at women and girls are a form of sexual harassment. Understanding that the daily name-calling, sexual jokes and gestures, and commenting on physical appearances under the guise of a ‘compliment’ that are commonly referred to as cat-calling constitute one of the most pervasive and ungoverned types of sexual harassment, the initiative seeks to break the culture of normalising it locally. When the Department of Justice established dedicated courts to address the heightened number of GBV cases being reported, it is not without merit that many who have been subjected to verbal or gestural sexual harassment wouldn’t perceive these spaces as made for them to seek justice. As a result, the “Rragwe T” campaign aims to serve as an intervention toward national progress.
“We have chosen to use a series of letters and discussions addressed to Rragwe T to spark conversations that will lead to people examining their own attitudes, beliefs and biases, learning about and understanding what sexual harassment is, and learning how to prevent and combat it,” says FAB, as they hope to encourage the building a culture of zero tolerance towards any form of sexual harassment. The campaign has girls and women at its core, however, goes further to address the fact that GBV is not exclusive to just girls and women, with marginalised communities experiencing it too and often going unheard.
The 2023 World Population Review reported that Botswana once again had the highest incidence of rape in the world at 92.93 per 100,000 people. While admitting that calculating the economic impact of GBV is a difficult task due to its many constituent elements, the International Monetary Fund cites that “studies often find costs in the range between 1.2 and 2 percent of GDP”. In the cases of verbal and gestural sexual harassment, their invisible imprints on those subjected to them not only generate distrust and breed fear, but their persistence readily affects social cohesion. As such, FAB’s intentions to use campaigns such as this to create “a safer, healthier environment and culture where all womxn in Botswana can feel safe, respected and valued” directly align with the globally inclusive Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the pan-African Agenda 2063 spearheaded by the African Union.
On this enduring journey for social justice, envisioning a generation that only hears of violence and subjugation as distant relics may not be an impossibility. Fueled by a shared commitment to surpass the mere protection of the most vulnerable, communities in Botswana and around the globe might opt to eradicate gender-based violence unequivocally, irrespective of the challenges involved. Groups like Feminist Alliance Botswana actively contribute to the collective efforts, standing as sentinels in the ongoing advocacy to emancipate the people of Botswana from suffering that is, regrettably, human-made.