Tag Archives: gender issues

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.

How to be an Ally

31 Jul

I am a female feminist. I am also white, heterosexual and cis (my gender matches the sex I was assigned at birth), and I recognize the privileges that come with those attributes – not to mention being from a middle-class Canadian family. I strive to be an ally for people of the LQBTQQ community and for people of colour, and navigating the best way to do that can at times be difficult. Michael Urbina wrote a fantastic article titled 101 Everyday Ways for Men to be Allies to Women. I recommend reading the article in its entirety, especially for my male readers, but I am going to highlight some of my favourite points that I think are applicable to anyone who wants to be an ally to women, people of colour, and the LGBTQQ community. I added some personal comments in italics.

  • Recognize your privileges, especially your male privilege (and white privilege if applicable).
  • Make a daily effort to acknowledge and then challenge your privilege.
  • Recognize that your male privilege (among other privileges) may in fact blind you to others’ experiences.
  • Stop catcalling. Seriously, just stop! 
  • If you’re going to be chivalrous (on dates) or in everyday life, do it for everyone out of kindness, not just for women or people you think are not capable of doing things themselves. Also known as: be a kind and respectful person.
  • Monitor your use of words.
  • Never force your opinions on other people.
  • Be conscious of your words and the effects it could have on others.
  • Be pro-choice.
  • Acknowledge the lived experiences of women and LGBT-identified people. (And I will add people of colour to this).
  • Support same-sex marriage. Given.
  • Challenge everyday sexism in your life.
  • Call out your friends on oppressive behaviors, jokes, or comments. This can be difficult; I cannot count the amount of times I have argued with my brothers over their usage of “That’s so gay.” This can especially be difficult if safety is at risk. Last weekend a white male called my black friend a n*gger at the club very quietly and I called him out not at all quietly – it nearly ended in a brawl. 
  • Support musicians and artists that do not degrade women (or others) in their music and lyrics. – Have you read the lyrics or seen the video for Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines?! 
  • Claim the feminist label. Read my post about why this is important here
  • Don’t be the hero, savior, or knight in shining armor. Allyship isn’t about rescuing people from their oppressors, as if they couldn’t do it on their own. Allyship is about standing in solidarity and working together to collectively tackle a social problem.
  • Support other people who advocate for gender equality (and all forms of equality).
  • Be willing to listen and know when to refer people to other resources.
  • Be an active bystander. If you witness harassment, do something about it.
  • Learn and use appropriate vocabulary.
  • Advocate for more inclusive policies, rules, or procedures in your school or workplace.
  • Be proud to be an ally.
  • Seek out children’s books for your kids that challenge traditional gender roles. (My amazing mother read The Paper Bag Princess to me soooo many times, and my wonderful self-identified feminist father was always there to act it out with me! For other titles, go here.)
  • Challenge entitlement (read my previous blog post and personal experience about this here.)
  • This might go without saying, but be conscious of other social problems and issues! All oppression is connected.
  • Support and vote for political candidates who advocate policies beneficial to women, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups of people.
  • Travel to unfamiliar places.
  • Ask questions (but not too many)!

What are your thoughts on being an ally? What other ways can someone be an ally?

The “F” Word

21 Jun

I have many friends, acquaintances and even family members (I’m looking at my brothers) that will say “I believe in equality for men and women… but I’m not a feminist!”

So why has the word feminist become dirty? Why are people scared to call themselves feminists?

The first reason could be that the root of the word applies to females, and so males have trouble identifying with it. When we look back in history, the feminist movement was primarily women – because it had to be. Men weren’t going to just give women equal pay or the vote, so women had to stand up. But now the feminist movement has shifted, and it’s important to have male allies as part of it. Indeed, most feminists I know also realize that gender stereotypes adversely affect boys and men (“Be a man,” “Grow some balls,” “Boys don’t cry,” etc.) – males need feminism and can be feminists too.

The second, and probably most common, reason is that we are often shown a negative portrayal or representation of feminist. Many still see “feminist” as synonymous with “man-hater, angry and radical” – because that’s what people who keep females down WANT you to think. I typed “feminism meme” into Google Images, and these are some of the wonderful things that popped up (for more, just try it yourself):

anti-feminist1 anti-feminist2 anti-feminist3 anti-feminist4 anti-feminist5 anti-feminist6 anti-feminist7

Believe it or not, I chose some of the least-offensive.


But in reality, feminism is simply the ideology that advocates for the social, economic and political equality of the genders.

So do you think that men and women deserve the same rights? Congratulations, you are a feminist. Standing up for women’s rights is standing up for human rights, so be proud to be a feminist! The more people that proudly claim to be feminist, the more we can rid the word of negative connotations and actually work towards equality.

And for all of you who tell me that there is no need for feminism in our society (and for everyone interested), please check out Who Needs Feminism?  It is a great blog that shows the everyday realities of being a girl or woman.


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.”

The High Incidence Rate of HIV in Botswana

31 Oct

Botswana is an upper-middle income country with a strong push for education from the government. All students can attend a public, or government sponsored, school until Form 3 (equivalent of Grade 10) and then they write examinations. Students with passing grades are then sponsored by the government to go to Senior Secondary School for Form 4 and Form 5. Students may then apply to attend the University of Botswana, and successful applicants are sponsored by the government. The Government of Botswana spends 8.9% of its GDP on education (compared to 4.9% in Canada).

So why does this educated country with a strong economy have the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world? Even after both private and public sector attempts to educate the population and mitigate the spread of the disease, why is the incidence rate of new infections a staggering 2.9%? I asked “In your opinion, why does Botswana still have such a high HIV infection rate?” to coworkers, friends, and acquaintances. I tried to ask a mixture of both men and women, but I only felt comfortable asking a select few men, so only 3 of the 11 responses are from men. These are the answers I received:

  • “Our culture promotes cheating.”
  • “People, men especially, don’t feel guilty about cheating.”
  • “It’s almost like people have gotten so used to it that they’re proud of it.”
  • “Men rely on women to get tested – if their partner is negative, they assume that they are also negative. If their partner is positive, they just assume that they are positive as well.”
  • “The free condoms that the government gives out are crappy condoms.”
  • “Men don’t like wearing condoms.”
  • “Men take off the condom in the middle of sex.”
  • “Men are smooth-talkers and try to convince you to have sex with them because they don’t have HIV. If you ask them to go to the clinic, then they will just stop talking to you.”
  • “People will use a condom when they are having affairs, but they think that they don’t have to use one when they have sex with their main partner.”
  • “If a woman asks her boyfriend or husband to use a condom, then he will assume that it is because she is cheating on him. So she doesn’t ask because she is afraid she will be beaten.”
  • “Even if you go to the clinic with your partner, the test is 3 months old, so one of you might be positive and you wouldn’t know. Then you have sex with your partner and get infected,” (in Botswana, the HIV test given at clinics tests for the antibodies not the actual virus, which generally take about 3 months to become present in the blood stream).

The two trends I noticed in the answers were: people have multiple sexual partners, and women do not feel safe to negotiate safe sex. I have been told that both of these are “cultural”. Are they cultural, or is that just an excuse to continue the behaviour? How can this mindset (or culture, if you buy that) be changed?

I don’t have any of the answers, but I look forward to discussing this issue, among others, next week. I have the opportunity to represent Gantsi Craft at the forum for Reinvigorating the Gender Movement in Botswana. This national forum is a chance for organizations across the country to discuss and collaborate gender issues within the country. I am hoping to come away with a greater understanding of the issues facing Botswana and ideas on how to facilitate gender and HIV workshops within the producer settlements.

*Statistics on Education Expenditures from the CIA World Factbook


20 Aug

As a self-defined feminist, I am interested in all gender issues and how societal norms affect both men and women. While I have mostly focused my attention on women’s issues, it is naive to think that men aren’t also harmed by gender stereotypes. This is why I loved this picture, posted by the True Lebanese Feminist on Facebook, and shared by my cousin.

Then, an old friend from high school posted the following comment: “Masculism is a counterpart and a natural extension of feminism.” I had never heard of masculism before, so I was intrigued.

A quick Google search gave me a few different views and definitions of masculism. The Wikipedia page gave a generic definition and not much else: “Masculism is the advocacy of the rights or needs of men and the adherence to or promotion of opinions, values, etc., regarded as typical of men.” Masculism.ca‘s mission gave a little more insight into the movement, and highlighted the importance of respecting women’s rights, but seemed to misunderstand the goals of feminism. The second result on Google was a website called Gender Liberation Beyond Feminism had me intrigued, but then I started reading the article… I’ll let you follow the think and read it yourself, but here is one excerpt: “But what feminists forget to mention is that a prerequisite to be part of the feminist movement is that you accept the ideology that men as a group systematically oppress women as a group, and that women’s issues always take precedence over men’s issues.” Obviously I disagree with the author’s definition of feminism.

Then I found the blog Who Needs Masculism? and I found a definition that I could get behind: “Masculism is the controversial idea that just because one half of society has substantial problems one doesn’t have to ignore the problems of the other half. Unlike first-wave feminism, masculism doesn’t arise as a response to wide-spread institutionalized mistreatment. Instead, like the secondary and tertiary waves of feminism, it is a lens through which we can observe and hopefully rectify societal problems from the perspective of average men of no great faculty or status.” And I love the answer to the blog’s title: “We all do. True masculism needs feminism. True feminism needs masculism. For either one to deny the necessity of the other abdicates the common goals of both: Equality regardless of gender or sex, and dissolution of the patriarchy.”

So, my dear readers: have you heard of masculism before today? How would you define it? Would you agree that masculism and feminism are natural counterparts and need each other to truly fulfill their goals? Or could it be a dangerous ideology that some people use to act against feminism? I’m still very new to this particular topic, so I am interested to hear some opinions!