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Break the taboo and talk about domestic violence, says IWOC award winner
April 12, 2017

Malebogo Molefhe was a promising star on Botswana’s national basketball team until she was brutally assaulted by an ex-boyfriend. She survived being shot eight times, but because her injuries now require her to use a wheelchair, her hopes for a professional sports career ended.

Woman seated in wheelchair in front of U.S. flag and seal (State Dept.)
Malebogo Molefhe poses at the U.S. Department of State in Washington after receiving the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. (State Dept.)


In its place, a new career began. Molefhe is now a leading advocate for women and girls to overcome the type of domestic violence she faced, and she is teaching girls in Botswana and other African countries to fight harmful gender stereotypes and domestic abuse. In recognition of her work, she was recently honored with the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award.

Molefhe said her message to girls begins by teaching them to understand and value themselves. Without self-respect, it is hard to see the implications of domestic violence and the necessity of reporting it.

“Where I come from, I know for a fact that young people report cases and then the next day they withdraw them,” she said. “This on its own hinders the progress of the authorities to follow up with their cases. And it affects the integrity of women’s reports to the authorities. So we encourage women to talk about violence, to be vigilant in relationships, and to understand their value first as people.”

Part of the reason women are reluctant to seek help is pressure from the perpetrator as well as society — particularly if they have been victimized by a family member. But Molefhe said the problem also stems from the fact that domestic violence is a taboo topic that is rarely discussed, even if many young children are being exposed to it on a regular basis.

“People are not allowed to talk about certain things. So a lot of girls are violated because of their backgrounds, because of culture. And then they are not afforded the opportunity to speak out,” she said.

The solution is to educate children of both sexes about domestic violence. Boys, especially, need to see positive examples of how to treat women and become better men.

“A lot of perpetrating is done in front of kids, and they learn about this violence from a very tender age,” she said. “Young kids are not taught anything about violence, so they grow up in homes of violence. And the only thing they know is just perpetrating violence towards women, the other girls in the schools or at the home as they grow up.”

Molefhe said that as a YALI Network member, you can help end this cycle of violence by educating children in your own community. “YALI students can actually make sure that this happens. They can encourage and teach young people about violence in the home, which is still lacking, especially where I come from,” she said.

Take the #Africa4Her quiz and tell us how you will be bold for change to make a difference in the lives of women and girls in your own community. Then tell us about what you have done and follow the hashtag #Africa4Her to see what others are saying.