We, the undersigned civil society organisations, wish to unreservedly express our serious concern and deep disappointment at the shocking light-handedness with which our political leaders respond to the current national crisis of Gender Based Violence (GBV) which is ravaging our country. These cases continue to soar all across the country, leading to women and children being stripped off their dignity and, in some instances, their lives. This is a clear indication that Botswana is in a state of emergency and the safety of women, children and the elderly are at stake.

There is a myriad of factors which contribute to gender-based violence. These include cultural, financial, emotional and social issues and none of them are justifiable. There is therefore an inherent need for a call to action by our political leadership to address this crisis and avert it before even more lives are affected.

The government of Botswana is the primary custodian of the rights of Batswana. Its failure to protect them against GBV perpetuates what has become a gross violation of basic fundamental human rights. GBV survivors and victims’ experience these violations through mental, physical, sexual and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies.

We are calling on the government of Botswana to take heed of and take responsibility for the safety of Batswana. We are aware that GBV has often been trivialised as being ‘mere bickering’ and misunderstanding within intimate relationships. Such failure to treat GBV with the responsible urgency which is required, fundamentally affects the fabric of our society – this will ultimately be at the expense of the future of our country. This honest, national
conversation needs to start and to be had by our elected representatives, leading ultimately to a change in the mind-set and perceptions of the perpetrators and the society at large.

There is also need to empower survivors, with knowledge and confidence to stand against gender-based violence. GBV is a national crisis and not the preserve of any particular political party. Botswana, like other countries in the SADC region, in the continent and globally, has seen an increase in gender-based violence over the years. Its incidence has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic regulations, which at times confine both perpetrator and survivor in the home for lengthy periods of time. This has left several survivors without recourse to assistance or the ability to escape the home. During the first lockdown period (2 April – 14 May 2020) 58 school girls were impregnated, according to Minister Molao – Minister of Basic Education. During 22 March – 4 April 2020, there were 22 reported cases of rape and 31 reported cases of defilement.

Although GBV is not confined to any gender, most survivors are women and children. The Botswana National Relationship Study (BNRS, 2018) revealed that 37% of women experienced some form of GBV in their lifetime. 30% of men reported perpetrating violence against women. Furthermore, the study revealed violence against men at 21% perpetrated by 12% of women. Women reported 36% of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and 18% (half) men reported IPV. Emotional IPV was the most common form of IPV (31%) experienced by women.

According to the Botswana police, “From March 30 to April 5, the police reported 2 murder cases, 22 rape cases, 1 threat to kill, 23 defilement cases and 1 indecent assault case throughout the country. With 22 and 23 cases of rape and defilement respectively reported during the lockdown, police investigations indicated that close relatives such as brothers, cousins, fathers and stepfathers are the perpetrators in these cases” (Daily News, April 14 2020; Mmegi Newspaper, April 14 2020).

It is also worth noting that domestic violence applications in terms of the Domestic Violence Act were stated to be “extremely urgent” by the Directions on Court Operations During the Covid-19 State of Emergency issued under Regulation 30B Of the Emergency Powers (Covid-19) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations, 2020. It is therefore contradictory that the same Parliament would then not take cognisance of the urgent need to deal with and the current GBV crisis as a matter of emergency. Since the commencement of extreme social distancing on 2 April 2020 until 30 June 2020, approximately 461 clients were provided with Psychosocial Support (PSS) through online, telephone and face-to-face counselling by CSO organisations.

To date, 121 of the 461 GBV survivors have been admitted to places of shelter and refuge. At the onset of the first lockdown in April 2020, we expressed our concern and alerted the government to the fact that GBV was likely to increase during the lockdown, and indeed as indicated by the statistics, this has been the case. There was inadequate planning for this anticipated situation and CSOs stepped in to provide the counselling as well as establishing shelters and temporary places of safety in Gaborone (3), Francistown (1) and Maun (1). Additionally, the CSOs have managed to provide ongoing legal assistance through volunteer partner legal practitioners.

These statistics are a clear indication that indeed we have a problem in our country and that this issue cuts across all demographics. We therefore call on the political leadership to act with accountability towards the people of Botswana. Accountability is based on them having been elected into positions of responsibility. We support the call for a Commission of Inquiry into Gender Based Violence, Rape and Other Sexual Offences (proposed by Member of
Parliament Yandani Boko), as we believe it will help the country to identify the causes, existing gaps and practical strategies to enable the current government prevention and response strategy to GBV in Botswana. The decision to establish an Inter-Ministerial Committee falls far short of the spirit of the original motion. Instead of an independent body headed by a judge (retired or in office), the decision will not enable a national response to the GBV crisis, but a government response.

We call for GBV to be declared a National Crisis and Emergency and for it to be treated with the necessary attention which it deserves. This is critically important as the country has enough evidence to indicate that GBV has indeed reached epidemic levels. We urgently call for the implementation of the fully funded National Strategy Towards Ending Gender Based Violence in Botswana by 2020 with immediate effect, through government working in partnership with civil society and the private sector. We call on our leadership to demonstrate political will by introducing stringent survivor-oriented laws, ensuring implementation, and safeguarding the well-being of our communities, especially of women and children.

Government must affirm its commitment to establishing a non-partisan and independent National Council on GBV, rape and other sexual crimes which will provide strategic leadership in implementing the National Strategy towards Ending GBV and facilitate resourcing, coordination and accountability in the response to GBV, rape and other sexual crimes. Six reported rapes a day demand responsible, accountable and proactive leadership!

These are the views of Botswana Centre for Public Integrity (BCPI), Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre (BGBVC), Botswana Labour Migrants Association (BoLAMA), Botswana Substance Abuse
Network (BOSASNet), CHILDLINE Botswana, DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights,
Emang Basadi, Friends of Diversity, Inclusive Directions – Botswana, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of
Botswana (LEGABIBO), Men and Boys for Gender Equality (MBGE) and Molao Matters