Tag Archives: Botswana

Homophobic Policies in Botswana

29 Oct

When I was living in Botswana, every citizen and expatriate knew the laws on homosexuality: it is illegal to have homosexual sex. This law was rarely enforced. 

Now, the government is calling for a campaign against gay men and sex workers in the country, in an attempt to curb the HIV infection rate. Suspected gay men and sex workers will now be arrested and detained, while foreigners of these groups can be detained and/or deported. Read the full story here

I am infuriated by this so-called “HIV prevention strategy.” I truly loved living in Botswana and was aware of many injustices and discriminatory policies, but this is the worst. Not only does this violate the Constitution of Botswana, but it is simply not a legitimate strategy for reducing the infection rates of HIV. While the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among sex workers is high, arresting them in certainly not the answer. Prostitution in Botswana is highest in the refugee camp and amongst the most vulnerable groups, and the government should be addressing the underlying issues that lead to prostitution – as well as the severe gender inequality that leads to women (especially sex workers) to be disempowered to insist on condom use. Furthermore, the prevalence rate among men who have sex with men is significantly lower than the national average (9% vs. 17.6%). 

I am absolutely disgusted by the government of Botswana right now. I urge everyone to oppose Member of Parliament John Toto who made an anti-gay speech last week, and to encourage human rights groups like Ditshwanelo and BONELA to stand against this campaign. 

Passion Killings: A Festering Sore on the Conscience of the Nation by Dr. M. Dikobe

6 Aug

I had this article passed to me. It is an article by a gender activist in Botswana on “passion killings”. It also references the practice of lobola (bride price). To read more on this issue in Botswana, read my blog about it

A number of reasons have been put forward in explaining high incidences of passion killings in Botswana, the most obvious one being the unequal power dynamics in relationships between men and women; woman are often perceived as minors who need to be disciplined from time to time. Another is entrenched cultural practices and patterns of socialisation. Further, to a certain extent, some Tswana folksongs can help us understand the way in which passion killings are regarded – as well as the responses to these murders. Many people use their culture, traditions or religion as a way to control women. In Setswana culture, as is similar in many countries in southern Africa, when one gets married the man pays lobola (bride price), mainly in the form of cattle and money, to the woman’s family.

The concept of having ‘purchased a wife’ has been cited as a reason for the belief by some men that they have the licence to beat their wives. These beliefs are further reinforced by the lyrics of some wedding songs, such as the one which includes the words, “mosadi wame ke mo rekile ka dikgomo”, loosely translated as, “my wife I have bought her with cattle”. The causes of passion killings are manifold and a lot of research on this issue is needed to better understand both the cultural and socio-political implications of its causes. Among them, increasing poverty levels and youth unemployment have been cited as contributing factors to the proliferation of inter generational dating as young girls trade sexual favours for a luxurious life. Socialisation too, plays a major factor. Men are socialised to be providers and women, the ones provided for. This creates dependency where women expect financial support and gifts from men, and the provider in turn expects loyalty and love once he has ‘bought’ the girl. Once the relationship goes sour, and the girl tries to leave, the man who feels that he has been taken advantage of does not take no for an answer, sometimes leading to violence, and at times, murder.


The Government of Botswana and other stakeholders have embarked on initiatives aimed at curbing violence against girls and women. Botswana is signatory to agreements to protect women’s rights, among them the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the SADC Declaration on Gender, and the Sexual Offence Bill among others. Despite increases in equality at legislative level, gender-based violence remains problematic in Botswana. To date there is no formalized mechanism to monitor and evaluate gender based violence. Some community mobilising and awareness- raising remains crucial.

There is still only one shelter for victims of gender and domestic violence and rape which is in Gaborone, the capital, with another centre – Women Against Rape (WAR) – in Maun in the north-east. There is a call to increase the number of such centres across the country and to make them accessible to women and girls. There is also a need to mobilise public opinion against the broader injustices of femicide. Everyone should say “NO” to violence against women.

The state has to ratify and enforce existing laws and ensure that there is zero tolerance towards violence against girls and women. The Government of Botswana is also currently looking at setting up national consultative workshops where the whole country can be sensitised about the issues of women’s vulnerability to abuse. Dialogue among various stakeholders, including NGOs, Civil Society and traditional and religious leaders, to find solutions and interventions to mitigate the impact of violence against women in the country is also encouraged. In particular, there is need for stiffer sentences for perpetrators so that they do not walk the streets scot free and prey on other young women.

Passion killings: “a festering sore on the conscience of the nation”

Crimes of “passion” are common worldwide, but several incidents of passion killings – where a number of young girls were killed by their lovers around Botswana in a short space of time – have attracted international media attention. Although men and boys are sometimes victims of passion killings, women and girls in Botswana are the ones who mainly suffer the consequences of this type of gender-based violence. The former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae noted at the National Conference on Crimes of Passion Among the Youth in Botswana in 2008 that “these crimes are new to Botswana and are not part of our culture as a peaceful and compassionate nation”. He noted further that, “crimes of passion are a festering sore on the conscience of our nation… they are eating into the fabric of the society”. The former President’s comments are close to the concerns of youth and adults alike in Botswana, who express the urgency of curbing ‘femicide’ – or passion killings as they are commonly referred to – before they get further out of control.

Dr. Maude Dikobe is a gender activist and Lecture of Literature and the Expressive Arts of the African Diaspora at the University of Botswana. She is a Fulbright scholar and holds a Phd. in African Diaspora Studies from UC Berkeley, United States.

Bride Price in Botswana

22 Mar

This is an excerpt from my original post for the International Women’s Initiative’s Survivor’s Blog. To read the full blog, please follow this link

“At the most basic understanding of lebola, paying a bride price turns a woman into a commodity that can be bought and sold. The meaning and the implementation of the lebola has changed and been molded over time and current practices do not necessarily represent the tradition of a lebola in Botswana. In theory, the lebola is supposed to be a man’s way of showing appreciation and recognition of the woman’s value to her parents. However in practice, the lebola often limits a woman’s control and decision-making power in her marriage.”

Why Statistics Matter

1 Mar

It is no big secret to anyone that statistics was NOT my favourite course during my university career. However, I do recognize the importance of statistics. This is was clearly demonstrated to me when I read a report at a workshop for growing the informal employment sector in Botswana.

A study was done about the informal sector, and part of the study was based on the income levels of those working in the informal sector. The mean income was BWP 2,557.65 (or about $320) with a standard deviation of 7,202.41 – this high of a standard deviation means that the responses are very spread out over a large range of values (the minimum was BWP 0 and the maximum was BWP 60,000 – $7,500). BUT the mode (most frequently encountered response) was BWO 500 ($62.50). The quartile analysis was revealed a more clear picture: the mean incomes for the first, second and third quartiles were BWP 500, BWP 1,000 and P3,050 respectively.

So why does this matter? It gives a very clear explanation of how the mean does not necessarily give an accurate representation of the data. This is particularly important in a country like Botswana. Botswana is currently labeled as an upper-middle income country, with a GDP/capita of $16,800 (or BWP 134,400). However I can tell you from experience that this not reflect the reality of the situation in most of the country – particularly in remote, rural areas. And if more statistics were available, they would tell you (and all the donors that have pulled out of Botswana) too.

Guessing Game

26 Feb

Here in Ghanzi, there are many churches. One of the denominations, the Dutch Reformed Church, has two churches with two separate congregations. In fact, they are about a two minute walk from each other.

One of them is known as “the white church” and delivers services in Afrikaans to a predominantly white congregation. The other is known as “the black church” and delivers services in Setswana to a predominantly black congregation.

Here are their pictures. Can you guess which one is which?


Maun, Kasane and Victoria Falls

20 Nov

Last week I took some leave days, and finally did some tourism! After my meeting with my school coordinator, supervisor and WUSC Botswana’s coordinator, we headed up to Shakawe then to Maun.

While in Maun, I stayed at a nice little lodge on the river that is a hotspot for tourists and locals wanting a drink. While Heather, Kelsey and I were lounging by the pool we heard a hippo grunt – it sounded suuuuuper close! We went to go look for it, and it was within 20 meters of us. Hippos like to spend most of their time underwater, so we lucked out when it came really far out to eat some dinner. Image

I also went on a horseback safari, which was really cool! All of the animals were in an enclosure, and there were no animals that would hurt or spook the horses, but I saw plenty of giraffes, impala, kudu and some zebras. We were able to get ready close to the animals, and it was great to be on a horse for the first time in a looong time! Below is one of the pictures I got of a giraffe in the park. Image

My friend Julia met me on Thursday in Maun, and Friday we traveled to Kasane. We met some fellow travelers and had an amazing dinner at an Indian restaurant. Saturday we woke up early for a game drive at Chobe National Park where we saw lots of elephants, buffalo, baboons, impala, some giraffes, a leopard (barely since he was hiding in a tree) and 2 lionesses. The lions were wonderful because they were hunting and we saw them stalking a herd of buffalo. I was hoping we would get to see a kill, but no such luck! We spent the day lounging poolside at a resort, then went on a sunset boat cruise. The boat cruise (through Chobe National Park) was truly amazing, and we were able to get really close to hippos and elephants. Here are a couple of pictures from Chobe. Image




Sunday we went on a day trip to Victoria Falls. And (big surprise) they really are beautiful. Since the rains haven’t really come yet this year, the falls were fairly dry and we were able to get a unique view. Instead of the roaring falls that drench you when you see them, we got to see a subtler beauty. I really wanted to go in the Devil’s Pool, but unfortunately that is on the Zambia side of the falls so I didn’t get the chance… this time. I would also love to go rafting there and see more of Zimbabwe, so I guess I will just have to again sometime! Most of my pictures of Victoria Falls are on Julia’s camera, but I will get those soon.

Overall, it was an amazing weekend, and I am even more in love with Botswana and Southern Africa.

What’s Culture Go To Do With It?

8 Nov

I had the amazing opportunity to attend a forum on Reinvigorating the Gender Movement in Botswana this week. It was a really valuable experience and I got to hear some great and open debate, learn more about the history of the gender movement in Botswana and meet some really interesting people.

BUT (because there is always a but) there were two comments that just irked me.

The first was: “Women have more power than men because they can say no in the bedroom. Men will never say no!” Excuse me?! In what world can women always say no? Marital rape is a sad reality. Also, maybe she would want to have sex if her pleasure was put on an equal level as his. And maybe she would want to have sex if she wasn’t tired from working two jobs every single day – her paid work and the unpaid work she does at home. Of course, I too am making assumptions with these statements, but I just want to make it obvious that a woman does not always have the power to say no, and when she does have the power – well, why shouldn’t she? And to speak to my personal experience regarding the power dynamic in Botswana – when a man hits on me by asking me how many cows my parents want, that shows me that he has put the power on him and on my parents (likely mostly my father) while giving me none of the power.

Also – why should a woman’s power be connected to her sexuality? Men are judged on their intelligence, on their work, on their ideas – so why aren’t women?

The second comment was: “I married a Kalanga woman because I think she is still more controllable. It is still in the Kalanga culture to raise a girl to be a woman that will take care of her husband.”

This reminded me a comment on my Facebook that I choose not to address at the time. Here it is:


How long are we going to blame culture for human rights violations?! Oppression does NOT equal culture. I am tired of skirting around it – but the “culture” excuse a shitty and pathetic excuse. Cultures are socially constructed and therefore are molded and changed over time. We need to carry the best parts of culture forward into the future while leaving the harmful parts in the past.