Goakgakala Sobatha – Botswana

Goakgakala Sobatha – Botswana

Date: October 12, 2015
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Planning for sustainable and safe settlements, tomorrow’s solution for women, boys and girls

Every council department or government department has a role to play in gender mainstreaming and combating gender based violence.

The Gender Links (GL) workshop revived and re-kindled my gender activist spirit which was inculcated in me during my university studies. During my first year at University of Botswana, I was doing Introduction to Sociology and Gender Studies was a component of my course. I enjoyed the course since it made me appreciate this “gender thing/talk.” As I did my final year BSc Town & Regional Planning, Physical Planning and Gender was one of the courses I did towards the attainment of my degree. It is a course that made me realise that, as a planner, I cannot talk development without gender.

When I started my job as a physical planner, mainstreaming of cross cutting issues (gender being one of them) was a burning platform in preparation of our five year development plans. From experience I realised that it was too theoretical.

It was after the Gender Links workshop that I realised that gender mainstreaming is possible or can be realised through our daily work as a Local Authority. For example, my core duty of planning for sustainable settlements is a way of working towards some preventative measures to curb the effects of climate change, which affects women mostly.

The Gender Links workshop and the district summits I have attended so far, have taught me that as a planner for physical developments I have a part to play in combating gender based violence (GBV). The layout designs I prepare, where I propose passages and open spaces in between plots, can contribute to gender based violence. Naming of streets plays a very important role in combating GBV.

Moshupa Sub District Council is counted among the local authorities that are seen as centres of excellence in gender mainstreaming, due to the dedication and commitment I have displayed in advocating for gender equality and an end to gender based violence.

As a gender focal person for the sub district council, I played an advocacy role during the implementation of some projects and programmes. There have been some positive results or achievement of some objectives, aimed at gender equality and an end to gender based violence.

I have made sure that the Gender Action Plan that was adopted by the sub District Council in 2010 (and shelved) was revisited and some council work be aligned to it. I did this in 2013, when the Council had some limited funds for street lighting. Due to the limited funds, Council had to prioritise which road to start with to install a kilometre of street lighting. There was infighting, because every councillor wanted the project to start in their area.

I reminded them about our action plan and to break the deadlock, I advised that we consider the road leading the proposed Moshupa Bus Rank, as a priority road due to the anticipated number of women who would use that road from the bus rank at night. My advice was heeded and the consensus was reached that the road would be given priority. As we speak the road has street lights.

The workshop run by Gender Links and BALA has been an eye opener, and has taught me that whatever activities or services we provide, we should look at through a “”gender lens”, since we are very close to the grassroots and best understand peoples’ needs. The working relationship that I have with BALA and Gender Links, and from the summit, has enlightened me, that as a policy advisor I am in a position to monitor and evaluate any programme undertaken by council to determine how it can benefit both men and women in an equitable manner. If it disadvantages one section of the population, I should be in a position to find alternatives that can benefit everybody.

As a planner by profession, and also a gender focal person, I have been advocating for mainstreaming of gender into our plans, projects and programmes. I have always encouraged my fellow planners to look at any project or programme we propose through a ‘gender lens’; that is we should not only look at the economic benefits but how it is going to benefit both men and women. An example is the construction of a mall or a road. It should not just benefit men who will be employed there, but we should play our advocacy role to ensure the construction environment is conducive for women, who are mostly in the informal sector, to thrive there.

The District Summit awards on gender mainstreaming has taught me to appreciate that we still have a lot of work and lobbying to do to achieve the 50/50 agenda. I have also learnt that almost every Council or Government department has a role to play in combating gender based violence and ending gender inequality in their daily core mandate.

My way of doing things has changed and I always need to position myself in the shoes of other women who are disadvantaged in society. The many roles we play as women tend to disadvantage us, in one way or the other. Every time I am driving, and see a woman carrying a child at the bus stop, I stop to offer her a lift. This is because I understand the burden that she is carrying as a woman. I always have a feeling that if I change the labour laws or the employment practices, I will make a difference to women’s lives in the work place.

I have always thought that advocating for women’s rights and the less disadvantaged could be done by politicians or by someone outside the organisation, but ever since the interaction with Gender Links, I see that advocating for women’s rights can be done at the conceptualisation stage of a project. For instance, prioritization of a road to have street lights installed was done from a gender mainstreaming perspective, as a way of combating gender based violence.

The former GL country manager, Ms Keabonye Ntsabane can take some of the credit for this change. I have seen her to be a powerful and influential woman. She has been advocating for women’s empowerment and gender equality since I was school going age, and has soldiered on.

Working with Gender Links during the preparations for the National Summit has taught me that it is very important to document and archive all council activities. Commemorations can be used to relay very important messages on women’s empowerment and an end to GBV through the themes. The day to day work of local authorities is an engine through which we can drive gender mainstreaming. The evidence is the representation of Moshupa Sub District Council at the District and National Summits where we managed to scoop fourth position out of the 10 councils competing.

The support from my colleagues who are members of the gender committee, (Mrs Moitshephi Dibotlhale and Mrs Kamogelo Theetso) has been very important. The ladies have helped formed a good team. The dedication, commitment and support that they have always displayed have given me courage and strength, as has the support from our Senior Assistant Council Secretary, Mr Isiah Odirile. He has always believed in me and given me a chance to prove myself, and supported my initiatives geared towards gender mainstreaming.

I grew up in a family where we were groomed to perform boys’ roles and as we grew up, we instilled girls’ roles in our brothers’ lives. Advocating for gender issues was not a new thing in my family, as we have been made to challenge gender stereotypes from a young age. My late mother was the first woman to drive a donkey cart at our lands in the early 80s. We herded cattle and goats as girls. This grew within us, and we have always believed that women can perform duties that are seen as male dominated professions.

My sister Keokeditswe Sobatha (May her soul rest in peace) became one of the first Botswana police women to pilot a helicopter. My younger brother Calvin Sobatha has always been a good child minder or baby sitter, whom we engage to babysit our children and even change their diapers. He has always shared with me how his friends are amazed about his clean house and he says he told them about his upbringing by women. “My friends have always asked me how I manage to maintain cleanliness and hygiene in my house and I told them it is because I was brought up by my sisters who are very particular about cleanliness.”

The work done and the changes brought by the gender committee in Moshupa have made other sub districts within the Southern District want to emulate us. The training we have done for the members of the community has been an eye opener and has changed the way people feel and think about gender issues.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of the workshop for trying to sensitise us on these issues, because I personally used to think issues of gender are for wealthy women from the cities,” said Honourable Councillor Benjamin Mogodi, during the questions and comments session in the training workshop on Gender and Development and Gender Based Violence

Advocating for the recognition of the role played by women in our society has seen the street naming project in Moshupa breaking away from the norm, and two roads have been named after women who contributed to development of the village. This can be seen as a change in practice. A questionnaire has been developed on Promoting Sustainability in Strengthening and Cascading the COE Process in Councils and can be used by Gender Links to get advice on how to improve the concept beyond 2015.

A lack of laws and policies that can be seen as being affirmative on issues of women’s empowerment in areas where women are disadvantaged, and men’s empowerment where men are disadvantaged is one of the challenges that we have seen impeding us from realizing our objectives. For instance, the employment practices, recruitment and selection and the gender stereotype that we still hold, where we still see the other sex as the “weaker sex”. Gender mainstreaming has been the only way of trying to overcome the challenges.

I plan to assist women in the informal sector in Moshupa to get a suitable, convenient and safe space to trade in. This is because we have not catered for them in our plans, and they end up trading in an un-conducive environment, which can be inconvenient during harsh weather conditions. I am planning to get a sponsor to build them better kiosks.

James Dean said: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” All in all, we cannot change the status quo (the laws or signing of the protocol) but our initiatives, projects and programmes should be geared towards gender mainstreaming, so as to achieve a balance.


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