The struggle for bodily integrity
The principle of ‘bodily integrity’ adds the right of each human being, including children, to autonomy and self-determination over their own body. It considers unconsented physical intrusion as a human rights violation. While the principle has traditionally been raised in connection with practices such as torture, inhumane treatment and forced disappearance, bodily integrity has the potential to apply to a wide range of human rights violations, which affect girls, women and sexual minority groups. Mmegi Correspondent NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes
To raise awareness on issues of bodily autonomy and integrity, Success Capital recently held a documentary screening where there were also discussions about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) amongst young Lesbian Bisexual and Queer (LBQ) women, storytelling on unsafe abortion as well as Bodily Autonomy and Integrity (BAI) as a way of reaching out to different stakeholders including ordinary Batswana. In an interview, Success Capital director, Dumiso Gasha said it was important for the organisation to ensure that they gauge perspectives and experiences on issues such as intimate partner violence. He pointed out that this was one topic that is not often spoken about at home, work or even in church.
“Gender-based violence (GBV) has been a big issue as the shadow pandemic amidst global lockdowns and our state of emergency with regular media reports of violence including passion killings and threats,” Gasha said.
“Success Capital saw it fit to document the experiences of Batswana, most notably those who are left behind in public discourse, policy and programming such as the LBQ young women.”
“Also on safe abortion, AFSA supported us in articulating and capturing different experiences of both Batswana and foreign nationals in Botswana. Socio-economic and gendered disparities continue to affect how women can negotiate for safe sex, family planning and navigate structural challenges that deny full participation in economic, social and reproductive spheres of life,” he said.
The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), in partnership with other civil society organisations, supported the documentaries on IPV and BAI. Gasha explained that as a youth-led, managed and serving organisation, it was important for Success Capital to raise those issues along with others such as experiences around unsafe abortion. He added that having those critical conversations did not only encourage learning, understanding and solutions building but also allowed them to collaborate in policy and advocacy efforts.
In the Bodily Autonomy and Integrity (BAI) in Botswana - Part Two documentary where Success Capital talked to different young people from different walks of life and NGOs, Mphoyame from Molepolole featured. The unemployed young woman pointed out that consent between partners remained a challenge more especially when the other partner, who in most cases is a woman, felt like they were not interested in being intimate with their partners.
“One partner can lose interest in engaging in sexual intercourse after an argument,” she said.
“The other partner can therefore use force to satisfy himself.”
Mphoyame said culture also had a role in BAI, particularly amongst transgender women.
“Our culture has always stipulated how a girl-child should dress. Growing up, our elders told us how we should dress as women.
“Culturally, a woman has to fully dress and cover her body so that she does not ‘tempt’ men.
“According to our culture, wearing shorts and boob tubes is prohibited.”
“I believe that transgender women should be treated with respect. For them to be accepted by the community, they have to first be accepted by their families and not be forced to wear dresses and skirts when they are not comfortable with doing that.”
Kaith Moatlhodi, an unemployed Public Health degree graduate, said men tend to force their partners to have sex with them because that is something that has been going on for generations and that has turned into a culture in the absence of action. Rape within intimate partners or married couples have not been fully addressed societally and perpetrators get away with it.
“Our culture is oppressing women. Their rights have been taken away from them. Transgender women have to be taken as women. They do not have to be stigmatised. Our country also has to allow safe abortions to avoid maternal deaths and backyard abortions, which in most cases pose threats to people’s lives and also have negative health impacts,” she said.
Mmama, a single mother who resides in Tlokweng, stated that growing up, a girl-child is told that if she gets married, her body belongs to her husband. She added that traditionally, a man is the head of the family, therefore, making men superior to women, which makes some boys grow with the assumption that women are objects they can use as they please.
“I am not married but I know that when a woman gets married she is told to never deny her husband his sexual right.
“Until we stop doing that, there will always be an issue surrounding the consent.
“We grow up with the mentality that men rule us as women and a boy-child grows up knowing that a woman is an object and has to bow down to them.”
Mmama added: “Women, even in social media, have groups where they discuss their issues, will talk about how they will satisfy their male partners that are not good [in terms of performance] because they never say anything about satisfying themselves. As much as we have activists and try to speak out, it is going to take time for our voices to be heard.
“That does not mean we have to keep quiet. We have to speak a little louder,” she said.