Gogontlejang Phaladi – Botswana

Date: October 12, 2015
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It is only when there are more women councillors that people’s lives will change

Embracing being a young African woman leader, an active agent of change, a catalyst of development and a trendsetter!

My most memorable experience with Gender Links was being given an opportunity to deliver a motivational speech at the Regional SADC Gender Protocol Summit and Awards in 2013, held in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a really humbling experience to deliver a speech alongside dignitaries in front of the SADC community that took part in the 2013 Regional Summit.

I started doing philanthropic works and motivational speaking when I was five years old through my registered non profit-making charitable organization called the Gogontlejang Phaladi Pillar of Hope Project (GPPHP). As a girl and a child for that matter, I was introduced into the world of gender inequalities and bias early on. I realised that they can be found in our religious, cultural/ traditional and social platforms. Gender imbalances in many cases are institutionalised and justified using the above mentioned five entities. As I grew older, I also noticed that there was a lot of gender based violence (GBV) in my country as I saw it in my relatives’ households first hand. With one in every three women in Botswana having experienced GBV, in a population of only 2 million, this was a really saddening and depressing statistic. What really broke my heart was the silence. Very few people spoke up about GBV and gender inequality. This is so especially from the cultural side, as I believe that the majority of injustices to women and girl children are derived from our cultural expectations, beliefs and harmful practises. Being a child activist and advocate in such a society meant that I would not be spared falling victim to these gender imbalances.

My age and gender has always and continues to spark controversy and throw doubt over my work and achievements. This is just a short list of a few challenges I have faced: It took seven years to register my NGO, GPPHP, with the Attorney General’s Chambers of Botswana. I was told by the social welfare department to stop doing charity work as it was said to be a duplication of what the Government was already doing. I was told not to sing the national anthem of Botswana during my community building and national development initiatives simply because I was a “nobody” and not deserving of such an honour.

I also had to drop out of primary school when I was 11 years old in standard 6 to escape the physical and verbal abuse from certain teachers and the school head as a result of my activism and philanthropy. I was denied access to Bokaa Police Post by the chief simply because I was wearing trousers which he calls “inappropriate dress code for women”.

I was recently forced to give up my studies at university as my government scholarship was withdrawn simply because my social responsibility roles were considered to be “invalid” in accordance with the “University Rules and Regulations.”

“Aunty GG (Gogontlejang) is very helpful, kind and caring. On weekends, she takes us to the farm and also on school holidays and she educates us, she takes us to go and see historical and educational sites. She also gives us opportunities to speak on radio and she always takes us seriously. She is my role model because I want to be smart like her. She told us that it is not a crime to be smarter than a boy and that we must not be afraid to chase our dreams. She encourages us to work hard and be successful so that we can get out of poverty.”
Jimmah Lefatshe, during the ICDB Commemorations (11 years old)

Last year, through the GPPHP, I organised a Women of Substance Day and a workshop with all relevant stakeholders at the Bokaa West Lands with the elderly farmers and young people whom have a background as OVC (orphans and vulnerable children).

The theme for the day was “I am a woman of substance; I am a catalyst and an active change maker”. The purpose of the day was to recognize and appreciate the immense contribution of Botswana’s women to our country’s economic, cultural, educational, religious, social and political spheres.

The reason for holding the Woman of Substance Day at the lands (masimo) is to draw attention to the importance of women on the lands, farms, cattle posts and rural or remote areas for their key role in raising some of the most successful, level headed and most well rounded people in Botswana. Also, they have powerful, deep, constructive and positive family roots and values that our nation and other nations can learn from. Yet these people are often forgotten when key decisions regarding gender equality and empowerment are made.

The day reflected on social ills and challenges faced by women and the girl child in our country such as:
1. Gender inequality
2. Empowering the girl child
3. GBV against women and girls
4. Deserted wives
5. Rape
6. Teenage pregnancy
7. Defilement
8. Incest
9. Child labour
10. Forced and arranged early child marriages
11. Child trafficking
12. Abandoned and deserted children
13. Rights and responsibilities of women and girls
14. Polygamy
15. Property grabbing by relatives after the spouse has passed away

We also built a pit latrine and re-painted the mud hut of a 90 year old woman who is a farmer and a patriotic citizen. The elderly women of Bokaa West Lands were also taken on an enrichment visit to Lobatse Police Station to learn of best practices as anti-crime volunteers and were also taken to Gamodubu Childcare Centre to spend the day with orphans and vulnerable children.

I do not have a very long history with Gender links Botswana, but they have become like a family to me, primarily because of the very warm and welcoming staff spearheaded by the bubbly Ms Ntsabane who has successfully turned every stranger into a sister. GL Botswana’s staff exert passion in everything they do and it is clear that issues of gender deeply resonate with their souls. They are always willing to go an extra mile to get the work done. Through GL initiatives and training, I have been able to acquire and enhance my knowledge on a broader scale on issues of gender equity locally, regionally and internationally. A brief opportunity to work assisting the GL officers has also given me an opportunity to enhance my knowledge base in the field of advocacy. I felt really privileged to have been given an opportunity to assist in writing the speech for the Minister that he delivered during the official opening of the local SADC Gender Protocol Summit and Awards 2014.

My introduction to gender advocacy and activism also meant that this ‘new’ agenda was definitely incorporated into my organisation’s mandate. Change is a process, not an event and progressive and impactful change usually requires strength in numbers and collective efforts. I brought the gender agenda into the GPPHP’s mandate and thus I began training the GPPHP facilitators and volunteers on gender matters mostly at local, but also a bit at regional and international level. I shared with them the international treaties and human rights commitments on gender that Botswana has not yet signed. This was done briefly as the main focus was discussing the SADC Gender Protocol that Botswana has not yet signed. This led to holding the first ever Women of Substance Day and Dialogues session to be held at the lands with the farming community. It was a huge success and since then the community is being mobilised on certain issues such as Orange Day (25th of every month; standing against GBV) and also doing build up activities to the 16 days of Activism and Botswana’s elections and defining women’s position.

“The GPPHP continues to transform and change the livelihoods of many people and also to contribute positively towards the development of Botswana. What started as a youthful vision of a little five year old girl, is now becoming a wave of efforts and actions by different stakeholders in Botswana who have all been inspired, motivated and challenged by this young leader to do more and take up their social responsibility. I am greatly humbled, pleased and honoured to be part of such a great initiative and contributing towards the making of a new history, the history of this generation. We have lost Nelson Mandela, but we have a greater, younger and a female version of Mandela.”
Ms. Fredah Mpolokang, GPPHP Board Member

One of the gaps that I discovered in the way in which gender advocacy groups respond to gender issues is that often, we neglect the rural and remote areas of the community. This may be due to challenges with language barriers, geographical location, and a lack of logistical support in dispersed neighbourhoods and long distances. After visiting a certain settlement where teenage pregnancy was rife as a result of incest, I decided that it was high time the gender agenda also came to this particular community. I have decided to work closely with the rural and remote communities by empowering them about gender issues, training them by bringing relevant stakeholders to speak on how to respond to gender injustice and also hearing their points of view. One thing about the rural and remote communities is that they are the ones acutely affected by societal and cultural gender insensitive biases and injustices. They also fall within the range of unreported GBV cases. Now it is important to capacitate them if we are to zero in on GBV and gender inequality. Through the GPPHP, I am going to work hard at capacitating, educating and empowering this community.

Gender Links Botswana has done very well in raising awareness about gender issues in Botswana. I am happy that in my country Botswana, we are now more gender sensitive, more advocacy groups are advocating for women and girl’s equality, many people now in Botswana speak out against GBV and the nation is more empowered on how to act, report, respond and heal after experiencing GBV. More Gender Champions are getting recognition and the number of GBV cases being reported has increased.

“I didn’t know that Botswana has not signed the SADC Gender Protocol! Had it not been for your (Gogontlejang) post on Facebook calling for support to pressurize the Government to sign it, I would have honestly not known. I believe this is a call for action, we need to do more. I am willing to join you in your quest and I believe that the first thing we should do is definitely start with empowerment. How many people like me don’t know such vital information?” Ms. Lillian Moremi, Director of Ducere Foundation and Founder of Botswana Student Network, Ms Moremi recently held the first ever Women’s Empowerment and Leadership Conference in Botswana.

“People used to look down on our lands and ridicule us as farmers. They used to say we are disempowered and illiterate and some took advantage of this. But since GG (Gogontlejang) came here and started to educate us under this tree, now people take us seriously. She has called top officials to come here and listen to us, talk to us and also train us. We have seen radio and TV coming here to these very dusty farms. e teachings have given us dignity and respect in the community. We thank her.”
Mrs. Nkeke /Mma Thomas, Bokaa West Lands farmer (text was originally in Setswana, translated.)

“Gogontlejang is truly a blessing to this community. She has helped us a lot, we farm women who stay at the farms and have no husbands. She has really educated us and shed light over the dark areas we used to have in our heads. She brings people from the city to come here to the farms to teach, train and interact with us. We have really learnt a lot in the two years she has been with us, we have improved our lives and we have also been able to voice our opinions on certain issues and be taken into consideration. Through her, we have also been able to meet many influential people we could only dream of meeting and have been featured in the media too. We also know how to plan and organise and coordinate. I am now proud to be a woman farmer, I know my rights, I know the legal procedures and processes and I can no longer be shaken or scared by anything. We appreciate and celebrate her.”
Ms. Lucky Ratshwene, Bokaa West Lands farmer (text originally in Setswana- translated)

I am happy that now in my country, Botswana, we are more gender sensitive. More advocacy groups are coming on board to advocate for women and girl’s equality. Many people now speak out against GBV in Botswana. The nation is more empowered as to how to act, report, respond and heal after experiencing GBV, more Gender Champions are getting recognition and the number of GBV cases being reported has increased. Now I am feeding back lessons learned to Gender Links through the articles I write for the Gender Links online ‘Opinion and Commentary’ portal. My articles have received massive positive feedback across the world and continue to generate dialogue around issues of culture and gender equality. They are also grabbing the attention of relevant stakeholders and law makers. They attract many people from diverse backgrounds. Some of my articles have been translated into French to cater for the Francophone countries.


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