23 October 2006

Botswana: Abused Men Turn to Women's Shelter

Kagisano Women's Shelter in Gaborone has become a refuge for some abused men. The shelter's director, Lorato Moalusi-Sakufiwa said though a majority of their customers are women, men are also seeking their services. "Just this morning, we attended to one man. To us this is a positive development because it shows that men have learnt that they can also seek help," she said.

The centre was established in 1998 to help abused women rebuild their lives. It deals with issues of gender-based violence and handles a variety of cases ranging from emotional, physical, psychological and sexual to economic abuse. Sakufiwa said domestic violence is escalating as they attend to an average of eight cases per week. She said this is a matter of serious concern, adding that violence is perpetrated on both married and unmarried women. Other matters that the centre attends to include property grabbing by relatives when a man is dead. The problem is common among unmarried couples who are cohabiting.

The centre offers skills and assertive training for women. Safukiwa said women should be assertive enough to say 'no' to abusive relationships. The Kagisano director said they offer refuge to women whose lives are in danger. The shelter accommodates women who have been evicted from their homes. "We have a place of safety where we keep the women and their children," she said. Kagisano takes in girls of all ages and boys of 15 year and below. Sakufiwa said the age limit for males is due to the fact that in the past they had older boys who were misbehaving. She added that accommodating older boys at the centre is as bad as bringing in men. She said they hold individual and group sessions for their customers. The maximum period women could be accommodated at the shelter is three months.

But at times others spend a longer period, depending on the complexity of their cases. She said in cases where somebody has been raped by a close relative, they do not release the woman until after the trial is over. The other people who are kept for a longer period at the shelter are foreign women whose cases have not been concluded. Kagisano is also running an out-reach programme to communities to address the problems of HIV/AIDS and gender based violence. The centre handles cases from all over the country and has pilot projects in Francistown and Hukuntsi. The Hukuntsi project is meant to create awareness for women on economic empowerment. She feels it is important to empower women economically as some of them stay in abusive relationships because they are financially dependent on their partners.

The shelter also deals with stress management and does not isolate men in its campaign against gender abuse. "We have realised that it is worth working very closely with men as much as we have been providing them with counselling. For example, this week we conducted a workshop for men. We will be conducting a public campaign aimed at mobilising men," she said. But how do men regard the centre? Sakufiwa believes the attitude of some men towards the shelter has been positive. She added that there have been men who referred abused women to the centre. "We also have another group that sees us as a rebellious lot. But in most cases after interacting with us, you could see the negativity fading away. They would start to appreciate the organisation." Safukiwa said there have been cases where they were confronted by men looking for their partners. However, she made it clear that they do not take women from their homes. "They are referred to us. It is not that we want to split families." Safukiwa feels that for too long, people have kept silent about gender based violence. "When we go out we feel it is time to start talking. We feel people should open up and talk about issues."

Like every NGO, Kagisano depends on donor funding from a number of local and international organisations. The shelter received funding from the European Union (EU) to put an office block in Broadhurst on a plot which was allocated by the Gaborone City Council (GCC). Safukiwa said they also work very closely with other NGOs like Botshabelo Rehabilitation Centre, Emang Basadi, Women in Law in Southern Africa, University of Botswana Legal Clinic and the Women's Affairs Department. Other critical partners include Life Line Botswana, the Gaborone District Multi-Sectoral AIDS Committees, Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations (BONASO) and Botswana Coalition of Non-Government Organisations (BOCONGO).

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