Who are we?
The Botswana CAL Collective was established in October 2015 within the working mission of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), and aims to capacitate women (including young, lesbian, bisexual and trans women) to recognize their challenges and confront the oppressions they encounter. It is made up of 6 members – two each from Health Empowerment Rights (H.E.R), Higher Heights for Girls Organization (HHGO), and Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO). Our role is to locally implement the Autonomy Project, a CAL campaign for bodily autonomy and integrity. We have 14 volunteers, known as the Autonomy Task Team (ATT), who assist the Collective in achieving our five objectives. These are: media visibility/engagement, consciousness raising, knowledge and research, wellness, and solidarity and movement building.
What was the issue?
Botswana’s well known economic prosperity is over shadowed by its poor human rights record. In particular, the rights of women, young girls, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LBTI) persons, and sex workers have been marginalised. Patriarchy is systemic in Botswana. It gives men the sense that they own women and their bodies. There is little visibility of the issues affecting women – when the matter of abortion was tabled in Parliament, it was immediately dismissed. Gender-based violence is prevalent but not taken seriously enough; so it persists, and people look the other way or victim-blame.
Women have no control or decision-making power over their own lives and bodies.
What was the change we wanted to see?
Firstly, we wanted to create visibility of LBT women, sex workers and young women. We wanted to raise consciousness about the issues affecting these target groups, for example, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Additionally, we wanted to build a movement of activists who can fully advocate for these target groups. Finally, we wanted to build partnerships with clinics to ensure easy access to health services.
To do all of this, we wanted to start by organising ourselves, building skills in administration and proposal writing, and becoming familiar with policies that affect us directly. We also wanted to create a frame of feminism that worked for us, and spoke to the individuals involved in the project and beyond. Since women are often undermined, we felt it important, as well, to arm ourselves with knowledge, facts and evidence, before embarking on this work. We wanted to be prepared to engage with and influence health systems, and policy and decision makers, in the future.