Douglas Thlarase – Botswana

Douglas Thlarase – Botswana

Date: May 29, 2012
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I have been a councillor in Ghantsi, since 1999, and was elected chairman of the Ghantsi district Council. As the head of the institution, that makes me accountable for what happens in the council, and I ensure that places and formulated policies are democratic, and come from the people.

I came back from my first Gender Links training baptised, a man ready to go out there to fight and make a difference, because for the first time in my life I went through and saw what was happening in real life, face to face. After that, there was no going back

I love politics. Even though it’s not a paying job, I have the passion for it, the fact that at the end of the day I am that someone who helps develop and empower the next person. That is very fulfilling, especially since most people in my district are poor and live far away from infrastructure.

My first encounter with Gender Links was through the Botswana Association for Local Government (BALA), when I was invited to attend a gender awareness training workshop in Johannesburg. I went to the training eager to hear what they wanted and what the whole agenda was all about. But I didn’t realize how life changing it would be.

Ever since the training, I started to target issues of violence. I got the council to have a plan, one that runs through all council policies, that targets developing people both socially and economically. We also have programs that empower women, and we are currently working on a project in which we are building a shelter for the destitute. We already have a house that is there to accommodate anyone who wants to move out of an abusive relationship, so they have a pace they can go to start afresh. We provide a very supportive environment. We have social workers there, but it’s still hard for us to operate because we are short on funds and man power. But we will get there.

The informative material I get from Gender Links helps me make a difference in my community. It makes it easy for me to figure out how to formulate things, and how to teach people to grow and change. Getting the message across is difficult, especially to fellow men. Many men call me names, and don’t understand what I am doing. Some call me a womanizer, thinking I’m just clueless and don’t know what I want in life by keeping in the company of women.

The most disappointing times in my job are when mature men who are learned walked out of a workshop saying that we are advocating for women. Sometimes, I even find situations whereby a council secretary who is supposed to help facilitate a workshop is not interested in what I have to offer. It takes some initial openness to understand that gender is about working together, for everyone’s benefit. These experiences made me stronger and I was able to speak out about my disappointment.

These moments, however, are offset by the positive experiences. It is nice to see that people are talking about gender, but what really motivates me is to see people acting differently from when I first started doing trainings. When I move around, I can see the change. Especially with projects I saw during the summit. I am actually achieving what I am advocating for.

Gender Links has been very good for me; my initial contact with them changed the way I think, and from there, I have become more informed by the education material. I’ve started thinking more positively, and I now have the tools to choose between positive and negative cultural practices. I’d like to give Gender Links a standing ovation; they have changed the landscape in both me and my community, and I am glad to be part of them. One important thing I learned from Gender Links is that the attitude the media gives to gender issues is not always positive. They showed me how I can respond to this kind of thinking.

Gender Links has also been important to me on a personal level. When I was young, my elder sister was married to a very abusive man, so I grew up in an environment that had GBV around me. This is one of the facts that makes me want to make a difference, and makes me know the need to stand up for women in the same situation. GBV is very dominant in traditional families, and the issue of infidelity is also very dominant, hence someone like me who is a leader, I fill obliged to help in any way that I can.

I must give credit to the BALA office, who initially chose me to be among the people who were empowered to go out there and make a difference. They made the initial connections between me and Gender Links, and I really credit them for valuing this agenda. Both Ntsabane and Matshameko handle issues with such passion, love, and hard work that our work is bound to meet with success.

Through working with Gender Links, I have come to believe that I can make a change in women’s lives. For a long time, women have been marginalized; but now is the time that women can be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Negative thinking that has been instilled in women has held them back for too long. Empowering men will also help to change this, so women and men will understand the importance of having women work hard to improve their standard of living. The fact is if men and women both understand the importance of working with each other equally to achieve their goals, everyone benefits.

Regardless of all the challenges, Botswana is going somewhere. We still have a lot to do, but we will get there. Since I started advocating, people have started to admire what I do. Now, they feel free to come forward and discuss their challenges and learn about their rights. In the future, I hope to advocate with the government to make sure the SADC protocol on gender is signed.


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