It is quite sickening to watch a battered woman, with broken bones narrating an ordeal of abuse at the hands of a man who is supposed to protect her the most-her husband.
Or worse still, to imagine a woman surrendering to being a punching bag because her husband is the sole provider in the family. In addition to being forced into sexual intercourse by him, he goes to the extent of sleeping with her daughters.
He also sees other women and doesn’t hide this from his wife. But again it is even more painful when a wife is subjected to abuse in every sense because culture has deceived her into believing that ‘What happens in the bedroom should stay there.’
Speaking out is seen in some communities, as a form of rebellion. Talk about a husband-turned-monster. These are the sad encounters staff members at Kagisano Society Women’s Shelter in Gaborone have to deal with on a daily basis. “Every week, 11 to 12 women come to report cases of abuse to us,” says the Shelter director Lorato Moalosi-Sakufiwa.
A December 2013 baseline study tour report on gender-based violence conducted by Women’s Shelter show the severity of this epidemic in areas such as Sebina, Ghanzi, Kasane and Ramotswa. During community conversations and interviews, it became evident that participants believed that the power and dominance of an individual contributed to violence when they can control resources.
In most cases, men were mostly responsible for the violence within and outside the family. “Because men pay bride price to the wife’s parents, they get the feeling that they have ‘bought’ the women and therefore tend to mistreat them, and think women have no right to refuse sex. There is a belief that marriage is all about sex and if the woman says no to his sexual advances, then she has wronged him,” says one of the participants.
However, it was also noted that in some cases, the violence was also committed by women particularly those who hold power or have control in the household over their husbands. Elaborating on this, Sakufiwa says the abuse is often emotional and economic. “She will use all demeaning words to show him that he is nothing or is not man enough. In other cases, she won’t give him money at all,” she says.
In one interview, it was revealed that some of the girls are socialised for marriage from a tender age, with the belief that they will get married to a man who will then provide for the family. In these circumstances, community leaders and chiefs are ill - equiped on how to tackle these kinds of issues, as they are deemed private. “Kasane is a mixture of all types of cultures; some school girls are married off while in school; an example is an Indian man who impregnated a girl and was let loose,” says a participant in the area.
Equally, cultural acceptance of violence, including sexual violence, as a private affair hinders external intervention and prevents those affected from speaking out and gaining support. The results of these pre-marriages is a psychologically absent girl at school, for they perceive school as ‘a waiting place’ before they are married. “Kana dilo tse ke tsa batho!” says another participant, implying that some issues are private and can only be dealt with by those concerned.
Community conversations further revealed that parents, in particular, those living with their daughters, perpetuate violence against them. One participant described parents who encouraged their daughters and female relatives to become involved in hidden or open or forced prostitution to earn income to support the family.
There is a lot of stigma, shame and disgrace for abused women. This is demonstrated in the derogatory and fault-finding language used to describe women who have been abused. “Women here are hard-headed; they live with abusive foreigners,” it was said in Sebina.
The reality of GBV in Botswana
According to the Gender-based violence indicator study conducted in 2012, more than 67 in every 100 women in Botswana have experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. A high proportion of men (44 percent) admitted to perpetrating violence against women. Nearly one third (29 percent) experienced Intimate Partner Violence in the 12 months to the prevalence survey that formed the flagship research in this study.
In contrast, only 1.2 percent of Batswana women reported cases of gender-based violence to the police in the same period. In a space of ten years from 2003 to 2013, a shocking 19 239 women got raped. From the initial figure of 1506 cases reported in 2003, the cases increased by 309 in 2008, with a decrease noted in 2009 when 1754 cases were recorded. The year 2010 registered an increase of 1865. Meanwhile, between 2011 and 2013, cases reported decreased from 1800, 1418 to 1328 respectively.
The most commonly reported form of gender-based violence is physical, followed by sexual, emotional and economic, according to Women’s Shelter Programme Director Goitsemodimo Rakaru. “In Selebi-Phikwe, the reality was that women keep quiet as they depend on men for a living. “Since the closure of some factories hiring women there, men now have double power,” Rakaru says about an assessment the staff conducted last year.
The police recorded 59 cases of ‘passion killings’ from January to November last year, all of which involved women. Although this shows a slight improvement from 74 last year and 85 in 2013, the issue is still an area of concern. At the small village of Tshwaane in Letlhakeng West, 11 cases of crimes of passion were recorded between last year and March 2015. According to Kgosi Othusitse Sengawane, youth who get entangled in messy relationships give him a headache.
“You see these young people walking hand-in-hand today and you hear they are dead tomorrow,” he says. The latest ‘affair’ involved a 27-year-old man who brutally took his 23-year-old girlfriend’s life by allegedly hitting her once in the middle of the head with an axe.
Meanwhile, Women’s Shelter Programme Development and Communications Coordinator Innocentia Puso said girls under the ages of 18 are also being sheltered in growing numbers due to incest and other forms of sexual assault.
Thankfully, she says, they have integrated some of the girls back in schools. In addition to counselling, they have started working with volunteers for community mobilisation so that they can reach all areas across the country.