A soldier with no gun
Oppression, hypocrisy, selfishness and character assassination are her worst enemies. But Emang Basadi chairperson, Joyce Andersen does not have any ammunition to fight them except her intellect and oratory skills.

Published August 18th 2005 in Mmegi
“I do not have any bazooka, but the oppression suffered by Batswana women gives me sleepless nights,” she says. Hers is not a war declared to keep up with fashion, or a quest to be identified with a particular calibre of women.

Her desire is a society that treats human beings equally irrespective of gender. She has always hated the way women are treated. When she was growing up, she realised that women are treated as little minds that could not take care of the belongings of the family. It happened to her mother. Her parents were rich but when the time of inheritance came, male cousins took away the property. They said that as women, Anderson, her mother and sisters were not “fit” to inherit the property of their parents. “I was only 12 years then but I hated what was happening.” Her mother, a woman who would never entertain nonsense, was an inspiration to her.

Today Andersen is a strong woman, who will not let anyone derail her from her ambitions. She withstood the pressure mounted against Emang Basadi, which critics branded an organisation of women married to white men, ill-mannered, young women and divorcees. “Their talks made me persevere, I knew our society was sick and needed someone who could articulate the issues of gender.” At her workplace, they ridiculed her. Some scorned and told her that she behaved badly. When they founded Emang Basadi, she was the only one married to a white man and people made it seem like all the members were married to white men.

Having been a gender activist for more than 25 years, Andersen is still not happy with the strides made by Emang Basadi. Botswana has been overtaken by new democracies when it comes to being gender sensitive. She says such countries excelled because there is political will. She says such countries’ constitutions clearly articulate gender equality. She said President Festus Mogae is passionate about gender issues but lacks the political will.

She blames local political parties for failing to give women decision-making positions. “Women are often relegated to cooking, ushering and singing in the party choirs,” she says.

She cites the case of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has a large female following yet women hold negligible decision-making positions. This could be due to lack of assertiveness of women and failure to support each other she said. “Most voters are women and you will be surprised that they still fail to nominate other women to power.”

Andersen blames this on lack of understanding of gender issues. She emphasised the importance of voter education. This should make women to understand that casting a vote should be accompanied by what they will benefit from the vote. In her view, a female candidate would take into consideration the welfare of other women because she understands the pains of having a sick child and failing to put bread on the table for the children. She points out that women alone cannot achieve this and they need support from the leadership. She laments that women in power have failed to promote other women.

Andersen, who at some point was a member of BDP, decamped because she did not subscribe to some of the party’s principles. She does not support the idea of a women’s wing in political parties. “This is a way of getting rid of women, why is it that we do not have men’s wing? Women’s wings do not help. This is a communist concept that was used to discriminate because women were thought to be of little understanding in politics.”

She calls on women to advocate for change in the electoral system from first-past-the post system to proportional representation. In order to combat political passiveness, Emang Basadi has formed a caucus that empowers women politically. “We empower women irrespective of political party affiliation.”

At some point, Emang Basadi contemplated taking government to court for its refusal to recruit female soldiers. “We challenged the government with Unity Dow case and we won. That was a defining moment for the organisation because we had lined other people that we wanted to use to challenge some of the discriminatory clauses in the constitution but she decided to go first. A lot of people are not aware that the Unity Dow case was actually initiated by Emang Basadi.”

A Catholic at heart, Andersen admits that she is not a regular at her place of worship. Neither is she active in the church. She is saddened by the way some of the things are done in the church. “Usually I take long walks on Sunday and meditate and pray,” she points out.

To her, the church has disempowered women in many ways. She says women are sidelined when it comes to decision-making in churches. This is despite the fact that in most cases, women outnumber men in church. Though she believes in God, she sometimes has a problem with the way the Bible portrays women. “They are submissive creatures that are not to be trusted,” she points out. “This, perhaps, is perpetuated by the story of Adam and Eve, and this gives a picture of a woman as an evil creature.”

Andersen does not understand why the Roman Catholic Church still refuses to ordain women priests in this era. She does not understand why the women are only good as nuns who cook, clean, decorate and light candles in the church. However, she is quick to point out that Emang Basadi is not anti-religion.

She says that the issue of passion killings must be addressed urgently. She says the phenomenon could be an indication that the Botswana-girl-child is empowered but the boy child has been left behind.

“I have a fear that if we do not address this, the girls might turn around and revenge and if this happens, men would make too much noise,” Andersen says.

She dislikes the term “passion killings”.

“This is femicide. We cannot beautify it and call it passion killing,” she says. Andersen does not only preach the message of liberation to the outside world. She does the same in her own family. She has taught her children to be respectful irrespective of gender and that there are no chores designed for girls or boys. “You would not believe this,” Andersen points out. “My son, who is married, still comes over to cook for me when I’m not well.”

She has taught her children to be independent and follow careers that they like. Her utmost desire is to see women realise their ambitions and fight without any fear.

“The educated women should stand and empower those who are not educated. After all, the woman is a pillar of the society,” she says.