Botswana – Elizabeth Swartz

Date: September 25, 2018
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“I am a vibrant woman who is ready to work with all women regardless of their status.” 

Elizabeth Swartz is a woman of strong will, she never backs down when speaking about equal rights for women. She lost the election during the 2014 general elections and fought her way back to become a specially nominated councillor who is now the chair of the BALA Women’s Commission, which advocates for women in politics.  

When Segametsi from BALA conducted a workshop for women in Ghanzi on how women live their lives, Elizabeth realised that women do not participate fully. It took them time to share with other women what they go through as women, such as abuse at home by husbands or boyfriends or their own children. She says that even with regard to jobs, women believe they cannot do all the other jobs, they only believe that they belong in the kitchen, washing the dishes and cooking. “For example, when VDC elects members they chosen a woman as a secretary and a man as a chairperson. This hurts me very much and I realise that we as women need to be empowered or trained and given skills.” 

Elizabeth says when she first met with Gender Links (GL) she learnt how to empower other women and also learnt about the SADC Gender Protocol and why the country has not signed it. “As women we ask ourselves why Botswana has delayed in signing the Protocol, this works to our disadvantage, especially for us in politics which is male dominated”, she says. 

She was one of the facilitators at the last workshop on Women in Politics conducted by the GL country manager, Mrs Rasesigo, in Maun. She gave motivational talks before and after the workshop and noticed that this can change the lives of women as they were interested on the topics and participated fully. 

GL conducted a workshop on women in politics and how to empower women. “I was one of them. This helped me a lot as I gained a lot of information and now I can stand up for myself in any situation as a woman alone. Being conversant on gender issues has changed me as an individual because I now admire myself as a woman and I stand up in any situation and face all challenges, thanks to GL.” 

“I impart the knowledge I gained from GL to empower other women using skills training in values and cooperation and I have learnt listening and interactive skills. Every time when am at church when the pastor preaches about something related to the girl child or woman, I link it to what I learnt from GL workshops and I ask myself what role I play as a woman in Christian life.” 

A close friend of Elizabeth’s was being abused by her own kids because they were not taking any responsibility at home in doing household chores but today they have changed and are able to do household chores. “She asked me to intervene which I did. This was very difficult but in the end I got through to them. In my household my male children know that there is no such thing as a woman’s job. Work is shared equally among all.” 

Elizabeth has registered a group as an organisation (NGO). “From this group I identified the skills and talent among the women, especially the San women, who are prone to GBV. Most had talent in sewing and bead making. I now source materials for them to help them start their projects. I also identify a market for their products and help market the goods. Also every Christmas we collect everything we can such as toys, meals and sweets and we give to the needy and this brings a smile to their faces.” 

The group is trying to implement the 2016 pillar which says “The loving and caring nation” and is assisting the women to come up with a project that can sustain their lives. 

“Whatever information we get from GL we impart to society and at the same time we notify the relevant authorities on issues of concern. Being in council gives me an opportunity to raise motions that make changes at societal level. Currently I use every opportunity I get to ask why we have not signed the protocol and I try to make the leadership understand the importance of the protocol in bringing positive change to our society.” 

The next step for Elizabeth is to access resources e.g. transport, funds or materials to use to facilitate or conduct workshops and assist women in settlements. “If we women can work together as a team and if the application process can be shortened, automatically this would lead women to take their projects seriously. In the past they gave up because they say it took too long to be approved.” 

From a layman’s point of view every person has an equal opportunity to participate in every activity in the country but that is not always the case. Elizabeth believes that the patriarchal society within which we live in Botswana makes it difficult for women to access some facilities and it is our responsibility as people in politics to advocate for change.