Over the past week, after years of deliberation, Botswana took the monumental decision to sign the SADC Gender Protocol.
The protocol advises on how best to achieve equal and meaningful participation of women in all areas of life.
The signing represents a historic moment for Gender Links, who have been advocating for its implementation in Botswana for nine years.
The Voice journalist Onneile Setlalekgosi sat down with the organisation’s manager, Gomolemo Rasesigo – a qualified social worker, born in Francistown but who hails from Mathangwane – to discuss the milestone and its potential impact.
Q. Good day Mma Rasesigo, what triggered your passion for empowering women?
A. I discovered the passion during my social work with Botswana Red Cross.
I realised that most people registered as destitute in councils were women.
When I joined the Red Cross I covered orphans and vulnerable children and the caretakers were all women.
Joining Gender Links was to advance my passion for women empowerment.
Q. What does Gender Links do exactly? Kindly share its mandate.
A. Gender Links is a regional organisation that started in 2001, in South Africa.
Its main mandate is to ensure that there is gender equality in the Southern African region.
In 2008, GL expanded and opened an office in Botswana as a pilot site and it has since grown into a bigger office.
It is now found in all 10 SADC countries.
Q. What programmes do you consider most important?
A. Because we focus mostly on empowering women, our major programme is gender mainstreaming with local councils and media houses.
When Gender Links started it carried out a study called ‘At the Coal Face’.
This study informed the organisation that when it comes to issues of local government, council were not doing much in terms of mainstreaming gender in their daily work.
The same applies to media houses, who are sometimes trained on being gender sensitive during their reporting.
Q. How does Gender Links empower women?
A. From the 2012 Gender Based Violence (GBV) study done by Gender Links, it emerged that most women stayed in abusive relationships because they did not have any source of income.
So we decided to embark on economic empowerment projects.
We are a non-profit making organisation and believe that knowledge is power!
What we do is to try and link women up with funders such as banks.
Q. How do you identify survivors of gender based violence?
A. We work closely with different councils, police officers and social workers to assist in identifying survivors of gender based violence.
Q. Botswana signed the Gender protocol last week. What have you been doing to ensure the signing took place?
A. Government made an announcement last week about their decision to sign the gender protocol.
We’ve been advocating for the signing.
Every year, we measure each country in the SADC region on how far they have gone with the implementation.
Even though Botswana was not a signatory, we included it in the Barometer.
Q. What was the reason for that?
A. The decision to include Botswana in the barometer was to see if the country was implementing.
We found that Botswana was actually doing quite well – in some instances like in education and accesses to health, women were doing quite well.
Q. Which area were women poorly represented?
A. The only area that we realised there are a shortage of women was political representation.
Political decision making is a crucial part and we are bound to fill the gap.
Botswana was ranked one of the lowest for women representation in political representation, so we are happy the government finally signed.
Q. Why did Botswana take so long to sign the protocol?
A. When the protocol was drafted in 2008, Botswana government initially felt the language used was too mandatory.
They also felt the time lines were unrealistic for this country.
Back then (in 2008), when the whole world was beginning to experience an economic crunch, Botswana felt they could not give their utmost attention to the protocol – they felt they could not fund it because of issues of the economy.
Q. When was the protocol reviewed?
A. From 2015-2016 the protocol was revisited.
Issues that Botswana had were put on the table.
The language was simplified and timelines removed.
More sections were added to the protocol, like issues of gender and climate change, again they aligned the protocol to SDGs, African Agenda 2023 and now it meant that the country was left with an excuse not to sign.
Q. Since you are a small office and you travel all over, how do you balance your time for family?
A. The travelling is just something else in my job, but when I am around I make sure I spend plenty of time with my kids.
Q. Your advice to women who continue to stay in abusive relationships?
A. The starting point for women in abusive relationships is to seek help.
There are so many people that can assist in different communities such as Dikgosi, Kagisanyo Women’s society and churches.
I encourage women to step out of abusive relationships because it affects children. When women look at issues of abuse, they should also consider children, because if the abuse takes place in front of a child, they will think it’s normal to be abused.
Q. Do you feel women are supportive enough towards each other?
A. In our country I feel there are women who support other women.
There is a misconception that women do not support each other, which should be set aside.
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?
A. I still see myself in the fight.
I feel obliged to stay longer to make sure that the protocol is going to be implemented in the country.
Q. Finally, it’s feel good Friday, where will you be this weekend?
05 I will be attending a family wedding in Mahalapye.