BOTSWANA: Onkemetse Prudence Kwelagobe

Date: September 5, 2018
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Oozing with confidence, a young female police officer stood up before a room full of co-competitors and gender activists, to present her project. Neatly dressed and very petite in my official uniform, one would wonder what such a tiny figure was going to say. The words that came out, my fluency with what I was presenting were informative. I still wonder where I got such confidence since it was my first time entering into the summit. However, that was the beginning of a great and awesome journey of gender activism at national level and recognisance of the role of Gender Links.

Kwelagobe started gender work in August 2013 as the title of Gender Focal Person at work. This made her realise that the organisation has a gap in relation to the way they handled gender issues as well as to the community that she serve who seemed not to understand gender issues. The passion drove her change and made her committed towards gender work, she was not trained on anything gender related. In 2015, following her active participation in the Lobatse District Gender Committee, I learnt about the SADC Gender Summit and because I had been out doing outreaches and empowerments. I took the opportunity and compiled a project to present at the summit, and won runner up position on the Best Practise Category. I never looked back there after and the organization saw it befitting to train me the same year as a gender focal person.

I took it upon myself to reach out to stakeholders and empower them on gender issues and the SADC Gender Protocol, as part of my professional title and even outside working hours during my leisure time. At this point, being familiar with Gender Links and having Lobatse Town Council as one of the stakeholders and a link to reach Gender Links. And also having attended events on the gender calendar that were monitored by Gender Links, Kwelagobe became an agent of change in people’s attitude towards gender and gender equality and the impact of the work was so beneficial to the organization.

When the country celebrated its jubilee, independence anniversary in September 2016, and She won an award under one of the 50 Young Batswana Change Makers and the award recognized her efforts towards gender equality. The same year I participated for the second time at the Gender Summit and won the under the Best Practise Category.

I am a driver of change, the influence I have made in changing the attitudes of my community as well as their perceptions towards issues of gender and gender equality is notable and very positive especially amongst the male cadre who felt at first that gender equality was a mere campaign by women to dethrone them of their masculinity.

I am not just a gender activist but also a transformational agent of change. The work I do involves motivational and transformational talks for both victims and perpetrators of abuse trying to change their mind-sets towards gender issues as well as to encourage them to stand up against abuse with one voice. I believe that for a person to understand the impact of a problem, they need to change their behavioural attitude towards such problem for them to be in a position to see the before and after impacts of their behaviour and have a clear understanding of their then behaviour with the problem at hand.

First experience with Gender Links was during the 2015/2016 Botswana SADC Gender Summit in Gaborone. It was my first time participating and was not aware of what was going to happen. Nonetheless, I found employees of the Gender Links office to be so full of charm and the willingness to help that I felt so at ease. From that point, I interacted with them on so many occasions especially during commemorations of days reserved to address gender issues like International Men’s day, International Women’s Day, Commemorations of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, as well as with the many workshops that we would host and they would show their support. I have to admit that at times it would be so disappointing and demoralising especially with events where we needed their financial assistance and they would turn down the request or even fail to assist with branding materials like t-shirts, but that to the life of an activist does not mean work has to stop.

Before being involved in gender work and getting to know about Gender Links, my passion was with Youth empowerment, mentorship, and I barely included gender issues in my presentations since I brushed it off as a topic that was all over the media more so that it was linked to the Beijing Conference. It was a matter of everyone knowing about the Beijing Conference and by that, you would be gender aware. However, after such interaction with Gender Links, I realised how misinformed I was. I read more about gender and it drew my attention that I had been very ignorant. I came across the SADC Gender Protocol, read and understood what it was, and shared the contents with people from the community. The fact that Gender Links availed information through their website really encouraged me to work hard. It was not and has never been a struggle to access information from the website.

Gender Links made me want to know more about the organization especially Mrs Gomolemo Rasesigo who is one person who inspired me to fall in love with gender work because of her undivided attention, passion and love towards gender work. She is always available to help, whether at home or outside the country, she is an inspiration. The other factor responsible for this change was interaction with victims of abuse. A typical police officer’s day at work will barely end without having seen a victim of abuse. The way they would narrate their touching stories, the way you would see their hopeless faces looking to you for hope, the way they would be so distraught that it would touch the bottom of your heart. This made me recognise that there is a sick world out there that needed someone to stand up and speak change

Apart from Mrs Rasesigo, another figure that had been very instrumental in this change is none other than the Lobatse Town Council Gender Focal who also happens to be the Lobatse District Gender Committee Vice Chairperson, Mrs Snowball Dithamallo Office. Such a soft-spoken woman who motivates daily, gives guidance all throughout, and believes in my potential to be a change driver.

For those close work colleagues, family and friends, the change has been of positive influence to them such that they draw inspiration from me. Having noticed that I speak out boldly against issues of abuse, they know who to turn to when things get off rail and they know who to refer their other close relations. The impact of this is not only beneficial to the organization, the community and the nation at large.