Adolescent girls in rural areas face dire challenges

Botswana Organisation for Sisters Empowering Junior Associates (BOSEJA) has completed a three-month campaign titled 'For Them Now, Hope is Here,' meant to sensitise the public on the stigma faced by the girl-child in selected communities of Artesia, Mmathethe and Mmashoro.

BOSEJA is a non-governmental organisation that runs health education and life skills programmes that empower at-risk adolescent girls and help them achieve improved health and sexual reproductive health literacy.

According to BOSEJA spokesperson, Tumelo Tsele, the campaign sought to unearth impediments hindering the girl-child from accessing her full human rights and further targeted to influence policymakers to devise legislation critical to ending tax on periods on the girl child.

The campaign seeks to address inequality faced by the poor, marginalised and vulnerable communities, which often breeds stigma and discrimination. “Now we have an evidence based report to share with relevant stakeholders in assisting those communities. We were in Artesia in May, Mmathethe in June and July in Mmashoro.”

The challenges that these communities usually face, according to Tsele, is stigma and execution. She explained that having access to quality education and information is a basic human right and they should be available to everyone.

She said there are so many cases of defilement, incest, teenage pregnancy, rape, gender based violence and HIV and lots of girls from these communities are forced to become heads of families as there is so much alcohol and drugs abuse among parents.

“There is so much negligence. Imagine a 15-year-old girl defiled by her uncle but deprived by family to report the issue and to top it up not having enough information to get help herself,” she said.

She added that girls in boarding schools are facing extreme period poverty, they use harmful things even their mattresses.

“Technically, Botswana is not a poor country, but the poverty rate in many rural areas and villages like Mmashoro is over 46 percent. For poverty stricken households, it has proven that the students, especially the girl child finds it difficult to keep up with the demands of modern day education system,” she said.

Tsele’s desire is for their organisation to influence policy makers to act on promotion and protection of human rights; to influence change especially on social issues that negatively affect girls such as defilement, sexual exploitation.

Also, to ultimately have them provide free sanitary pads to these communities because of extreme period poverty there as will help BOSEJA to take solutions.

According to Tsele, the report from the campaigns advocates for peer education programmes, where girl champions on health education concerning contraceptives, sexual reproductive health rights will teach their peers. She also believes that peer education will foster constructive conversations among girls. The report also calls for SRHR through football tournaments in concerned villages, engagement of Botswana Defence Force for boot camps, child protective services committees to be active, after school programmes and initiatives for male mentorship and a psycho-social support programme, among others.

BOSEJA has also observed that there is high prevalence of absent fathers, which put heavy burden on women to raise the girl child alone. “This was seen as one of major contributors of stigma on the child since often times women cannot do it alone, and this leaves girls overtime lacking basic commodities like school uniform and just the love and care.

“We discovered that since the wake of COVID19, extracurricular activities at schools have been halted and children are left with nothing to do after classes so they often resort to alcohol, sex and drugs,” she noted.

For these campaigns, BOSEJA had put together an ecosystem made up of human rights experts, students, teachers, Dikgosi, law enforcement officials, parents, and social workers, among others, who contributed immensely to the findings attained.