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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Botswana