Violence against women and children: the ‘hidden’ shadow pandemic

While the world is grappling with the impact of COVID-19, sheltering inside homes from the global contagion is a shadow pandemic in the form of rising violence against women and children. But even before this global crisis of COVID-19, issues of violence against women were of grave concern, writes GOSEGO MOTSUMI

According to reports, 2208 girls under the age 18 were sexually abused in 2019 while there were 49 reported cases of rape involving children at the end of the first nationwide lockdown. These are the latest statistics revealed by the National Children’s Council last week while police statistics indicate that between January and May there was an increase of 20 percent and 6 percent in defilement and rape cases respectively.

As the country reels from rising infections with the virus, women’s shelters are registering increased requests from victims of the shadow pandemic of domestic violence.

According to an April statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, confinement is fostering tension and strain created by security, health and money worries. And it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. It is a perfect storm for violent behaviour behind closed doors.

Recently, the Member of Parliament for Mahalapye East, Yandani Boko, tabled a motion that sought to urge President Mokgweetsi Masis to set up a Commission of Inquiry on Gender-Based Violence, Rape and other Sexual Offences as a matter of urgency. Boko’s motion, which was later withdrawn, came at a time when Botswana has been listed as second only to South Africa for rape by the 2020 World Population Review ranking. As the country with second highest rate of rape in the world, Botswana experiences 92.9% incidents of rape per every100,000 people. But these figures do not take into account unreported rape cases, according to the 2020 World Population Review.

Even before COVID-19 that has shifted the focus towards fighting the pandemic, cases of physical or sexual violence towards women were of great concern in Botswana. This is evident in a report titled “Male Violence Against Women in Botswana: A Discussion of Gendered Uncertainties in a Rapidly Changing Environment,” that was authored by sociologist Godisang Mookodi as far back as 2004. The report examined the dynamics of domestic violence against women in Botswana where the author argues that escalations in these particular forms of violence resulted from negotiations and re-negotiations of gender identities (by women and men) within a society that is undergoing rapid change.

At the beginning of 2003, Botswana was rocked by a series of violent acts that have come to be described as ‘passion killings’ as male violence against women became commonplace in contemporary Botswana. According to Mookodi’s report, analysis of genderbased violence in indicates that men are acting out their dominance through acts of violence. This dominance is created and reinforced by patriarchal beliefs and practices.

“I show that while contemporary forms of male dominance have resulted from their privileged access over time to resources such as wages and property, men also face uncertainties of unemployment and reduced social status,” Mookodi noted. “I also show that rather than assuming the role of passive victims, women have developed, and continue to develop, contradictory survival strategies such as cohabitation and sexual relations that not only reinforce notions of male dominance but sometimes also challenge power relations and render some men victims.”

Gender inequalities continue to result from women’s inferior access to resources resulting from their lower participation in wage employment and their limited access to the necessary capital for engagement in income-generating activities. Culturally-based social and economic disparities have been linked with escalating rates of gender-based violence, particularly male violence against women.

Other research conducted in Botswana (Botswana Police Service 1999, Women’s Affairs Department 1999) has suggested that much of this violence is meted out by men against their female partners, wives, cohabiting partners, and girlfriends, leading to the conclusion that most violence against women occurs within domestic settings. However, these findings of ‘domesticated’ violence against women are not unique to Botswana but illustrate a global trend.

Mookodi observed: “As Batswana continue to be affected by social and economic influences from outside and within the country, they are faced with many uncertainties that arise from negotiating the new values that accompany modernisation on the one hand, and traditional beliefs and practices on the other. Women and men are constantly reflecting and acting upon their positions with respect to each other, particularly regarding power and control.”