- During this year's marking of the World AIDS Day in Botswana, the vulnerability of girls and women was given special attention. Gender inequality contributes to the high infection rates among Batswana women, given the persistent widespread problem of domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
The theme this year's World AIDS Day in Botswana is "Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS", and in Botswana, the day is properly marked throughout the country. Until recently, Botswana held the dubious title of being the country with the highest HIV infection rate in the world and the government and civil society has become heavily engaged in addressing the roots of the killing pandemic.
President Festus Mogae commemorated the day in the western Batswana town of Gantsi, also focusing on gender issues in his speech. "Our experience to date is that many women and girls are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS due to high-risk behaviours, actions or inactions, largely by others," President Mogae emphasised.
In particular among the youth, this vulnerability was reflected by HIV prevalence rates. In the 15-19 year age group, HIV prevalence in girls is 12 times higher than in boys, according to statistics presented by the Batswana President. Mr Mogae attributed this to "a combination of factors, which include economic power imbalances, lack of empowerment, insufficient access to information and services; and socio-cultural barriers, such as gender inequality and gender-based violence."
- Violence against women and girls is still a grave concern in Botswana, President Mogae said, listing domestic violence, incest, sexual defilement of minors, sexual coercion and rape as the gravest problems. "What is most disturbing is that the perpetration of these crimes is shared by both adults and youth," he added.
Further, intergenerational sex was facilitated by the disparities in material resources between older men and younger women. "This is clearly demonstrative of the economic power imbalances at play, which leaves the young vulnerable and unable to negotiate safer sex," President Mogae said, urging every Batswana "to summon your deeper moral ethics and sense of responsibility to put a stop to this behaviour."
The fight against gender discrimination was today also emphasised by the Batswana human rights group Ditshwanelo. "To change the devastating effects of inequality, young women, in particular, need to be focussed upon," the group said in a statement today.
Ditshwanelo currently was focusing its work on "inheritance concerns" to address these problems. These relate to property grabbing by relatives of orphan children. The rights of orphans "are often not protected" when their parents die, mostly without leaving a will, Ditshwanelo had found. There is little tradition for writing a will in Botswana.
The Batswana Women's NGO Coalition and Ditshwanelo therefore together had produced a booklet on inheritance in Setswana and English, hoping to enlighten parents on how to write a legally correct will and to secure the future of their children.
The group says it believes that "it is through the empowering of women and girls about their rights, economic empowerment and education, that the high rate of infection amongst women and girls may be addressed." Through public awareness-raising about the importance of will-writing, Ditshwanelo aimed to "contribute to a more secure future for all children," the group said.
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