Gender-based violence starts in the streets with a member of the community whistling at a passerby, making sexual advances and objectifying her. The victim then picks up her pace, hurrying into a crowded area in an effort to find security. It’s mostly women who experience this insult, over and over. Many come to accept that “it happens” a lot. Oftentimes, when a police report is filed, there is no rape testing kit to collect evidence of the incident. In most cases, the evidence collected allows abusers to regain their freedom and continue their abuse.
In rural areas, especially, a lot of gender-based violence cases go unreported. Neighbours can hear the cries of mothers and children as a woman’s partner beats her, sometimes to the point of death. We as a community, as neighbours, are contributors to this abuse faced by many women in rural settlements. Mona-Lisa Danieli Mungure, a divorce lawyer and human rights advocate with Molao Matters, an NGO in Botswana, says less than 2 percent of the women she represents in gender-based violence cases follow through with their cases to get justice, while the great majority will return to their abuser to suffer at his hands.
At Now for Them Trust, the NGO I founded, and which received one year of funding from the U.S. Embassy in Gaborone to empower women and girls to participate in governance, we are carrying out stakeholder consultations to identify issues of relevance to women and girls, and are learning that most of the women and girls experiencing gender-based violence do not report these crimes. Almost all victims admit that they were shocked when first abused and considered leaving their partners. However, their partners apologise and convince them that it won’t happen again, leading to a vicious cycle of not just physical but also emotional and sexual abuse. A few women who have survived and regained their freedom from their abusers share that their abusive former partner would beat them and tell them that it’s their fault for getting beat up — if only they had followed the partner’s instructions, he would not have reacted as he did. Additionally, to demonstrate their power and dominance, abusive partners would force themselves on and rape victims.
To raise awareness about gender-based violence in rural communities requires the commitment of leaders to ensure that action is taken to aid survivors and victims of gender-based violence. In Setswana, there is a saying, which is usually directed at women, that “marriage isn’t easy, but you stay in it regardless of what happens” or “lenyalo le a itshokelwa”. In rural communities, the first step in reporting an abuser is to tell one’s family elders, but some value their family’s reputation over the safety of their family member and return the victim to her household, saying, “You will work it out.” As a result, many women remain in abusive relationships. We are raising future generations to recognize this abuse, to redefine what a “good wife” looks like, and to demand better of their future partners.
As advocates of equality and equity, we have identified the following best practices to raise awareness about gender-based violence in rural communities:
1. Consulting with local leadership is key in planning an impactful awareness campaign. Partners might include chiefs and local development communities, social workers, teachers, and local police officers. An impactful awareness campaign can only be executed when local actors magnify the issues their communities face and together, as a collective, find solutions to reducing gender-based violence.
2. Community stakeholder consultations are also key when gathering data on community awareness of gender-based violence and building useful local partnerships.
3. Next, consider organizing outreach sessions within the villages to raise awareness about gender-based violence. Our strategy is to partner with gender-based violence survivors, with advocates, and with activists who can help us address gender-based violence.
Sarah is an energy and environment researcher conducting environmental assessments and project evaluations. She is also the founder and president of Now for Them Community Trust, an NGO creating inclusion for all in communities in Botswana. The NGO identifies solutions to reduce poverty and inequality in rural settlements; donates solar lamps to scholars without access to electricity in rural Botswana; and hosts monthly reading sessions that use storytelling to raise awareness about gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, and more in vulnerable communities. The NGO invites people living with disabilities to compete in an annual marathon, thus raising awareness about athletes living with disabilities. Sarah also serves as a team leader for a project with the U.S. Embassy in Gaborone that aims to empower women and girls. Sarah is a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow.
Follow Now for Them Community Trust’s work on Facebook.
Contributed by Sarah Mulwa, a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow from Botswana. The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.