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Intersex community introspects

Yvonne Mooka

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MOKOLODI RETREAT: Hands off our genitals

A recent meeting hosted by Rainbow Identity Association (RIA) at Mokolodi helped intersex persons to understand and accept themselves.

An intersex refers to a biological sex assignment based on characteristics that include gonads, sex hormones, chromosomes or genitals. Intersex falls between typical definitions of males and females.
RIA advocates for the rights of transgender persons, being trans-women and trans-men, queer gender, gender questioning and non-conforming gender. It works at attaining the inclusion of transgender and intersex persons. Transgender is a person whose gender identity or expressions differ from societal expectations based on the sex the person was assigned at birth.

In an interview with The Midweek Sun, the Association’s director Skipper Mogapi said the camp forms part of their ongoing campaign called ‘Hands Off our Genitals’, which is aimed at stopping the practice of genital mutilation at birth by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

The campaign is against government operating intersex and transgender persons at birth. Instead RIA wants these children to grow so that they can make personal choices when they reach puberty.
At the camp, participants discussed several issues such as understanding diversity and acceptance. “We also discussed issues surrounding personal and intimate relationships which can be difficult. One of the key pointers was how to come out to an intimate partner and how to sustain our relationships,” he said.

Mogapi also said that most of the intersex persons expressed that it is not always easy to bring their partners to camps of such kind, because ‘the dynamics are difficult as people can be difficult.’
Anofher contentious issue was access to medical care and services, access and sustainability of facilities such as restrooms or toilets, which intersex persons are not catered for.
They also discussed the role of the church and spirituality, which they feel can be a safe or toxic, exclusive and divisive space.

RIA has over 100 members. Each one of them is unique, and their journeys are personal. Some say they are the opposite sex of what they were assigned at birth. Others feel they are both male and female.

Still others do not identify as either gender. “We also discussed access to education and services provided in schools. We looked into sport code and how intersex persons cannot fit in the normative binary that boxes students in female and male box,” he said. The community is advocating for sexual health and reproductive health rights, funding for intersex, inclusion in sports, schools and recreation centres and change of identity documents with regard to changing identity marker.

A global report released three years ago by the Open Society Foundation, ‘License to Be Yourself’, outlines the issues policy-makers need to consider in giving trans-gender people legal gender recognition, and includes best practices from around the world. It admits that these solutions are not “one size fits all” – especially because at the time some countries, like the US, were lagging behind.

Argentina is considered the leader in progressive gender marker policies, having passed a law in 2012 that allows individuals to update their gender markers on government-issued documents without any medical or mental health diagnosis. Several countries including Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal officially recognise a third gender on official forms. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh also have an official third gender designation for citizens who do not identify as male or female.

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BACK ON TRACK

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BR train 0501/BD 540 would not have derailed on 10 December 2019 had necessary precautions been taken, Botswana Railways (BR) staff members told the ongoing commission of inquiry in Mahalapye.

They blame the fatal accident in which two BR employees were killed on a raft of lapses, indecisions and negligence on the part of BR management. BR Senior Traffic Controller Simon Matenje revealed that there is a WhatsApp group that discusses everything concerning the running of BR trains. He said meteorological services had posted a memo warning that there would be floods on 4th December and shared it on the WhatsApp group. “The contents of the memo and their implications were discussed,” said Matenje who revealed that the group comprises most of the senior personnel in the BR hierarchy.

He lamented that although read and discussed the contents of the memo were “not given due attention.” Above that, on 9th and 10th December many BR staff members using the south bound and north bound trains warned relevant authorities about the possibility of floods, said Matenje. He believes there was negligence of duty on the part of management because everybody was aware of the floods at Moreomabele and Palla Road. “The relevant office should have directed stoppage of the trains or the adoption of an appropriate speed limit. “The best that management did was to give warnings about the floods but fell short of prescribing a solution,” he said. Matenje, who was on leave, said that he communicated his concerns about the reports of flooding and possible solutions to no avail.

When asked who exactly had the authority to do that, Matenje explained that it was the Operation’s Manager. Matenje also decried the lapses in the organisation’s system. He said motor trollies are helpful when inspecting the railway line. “However, they have not featured for a long time,” said Matenje who feels that regular inspection of the rail is a very critical part of safety. He said BR has not held any safety workshops in a long time. Mompoloki Rutherford, a train driver also appearing before the commission conceded that trollies had not been used on the BR lines for a long time. He said some senior managers use the train to inspect the line instead of trollies. “There are only two seats in the cabin but, contrary to safety rules, sometimes they just join us in the cabin which is a breach of the safety rules,” said Rutherford. Dikabelo Nawa, a retired train driver noted that BR workers were a sad lot because of pressure always exerted on them by management.

“Drivers work under pressure. The line between Mafikeng and Plumtree is old and very bad but we were always pushed by management to arrive on time. “There is just too much pressure. I once lost time and that put me into a big problem.” He said. He is also unhappy with the undergrowth and hanging branches next to the line because they obstruct the view of the crew. He appealed to the panel to recommend the introduction of a training centre for BR staff.

Peter Mokokwe, a recently retired train driver also complained that the rail road is never inspected. In addition to that, he told the commission that, he witnessed water around Palla Road on 9th December at the same place where the derailment later took place. Mokokwe, who himself did not alert control room about the water because he had heard through radio communication that his colleagues had reported the situation to control room, is also of the view that the disaster could have been averted had the 501 crew been alerted of the water situation.

On the other hand, a train controller named Moses Sethomo says he never got the communique warning the drivers about the impending floods. “There was a clear breakdown of communication,” said Sethomo who revealed that very often, even BR assets are wrongly used. “For example, sometimes freight locomotives instead of passenger train locomotives are used to haul the passenger train and this is a safety concern,” he noted. The hearings are continuing this week. The rail services that were suspended have since been resumed.

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Youth lament slow pace towards ICPD commitments

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Young people representing Botswana at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya last week have expressed disappointment at the slow pace at which governments are moving towards achieving ICPD25 ideals.

Trevor Oahile, a youth advocate and student at the University of Botswana participated at the Nairobi Summit to highlight on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of men and boys.
Oahile hosts a radio show sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Don’t Get It Twisted on Yarona FM. The show deals with issues that affect boys and men. Oahile participated in a panel discussion at the Summit on the involvement of men and boys in accelerating the ICPD promise.

He is of the view that countries needs to work together to end violence that is perpetuated by harmful gender norms that are antagonistic to progress towards the ideals of the ICPD agenda. “Botswana government and private sector are still challenged to invest a lot of money into implementing their commitments,” Oahile said, adding that Comprehensive Sexual Education on the other hand has to be rolled out to every school in the country.

“We also acknowledge that it is important to avoid stereotypes that impact decisions that people make. Men and boys often avoid certain services because they are known to be for girls and women,” Oahile said. Millicent Sethaile was at the Summit as a youth ambassador from an organisation called Her Voice, which funds and offers grants to smaller organisations that advocate for SRHR in communities. In her view the summit was significant because it was an opportunity for countries including Botswana to make commitments to fulfill the unfinished business of the ICPD made 25 years ago.

“What struck me the most is that I realised that Botswana has a long way to go to achieve the commitments she set for herself.”Sethaile also observed that the four commitments including to strengthen access to family planning, the reduction of maternal deaths, reduction of Gender Based Violence, provision of quality, timely and disaggregated data are activities that were already in the pipeline and have been discussed before. “I believe we now have to come up with actionable items that we can work on so that we can effectively deal with current challenges.”
For 18 year old University student Michelle Simon, the Nairobi Summit was a reality check, an opportunity to reflect and map the way forward.

“I realised that there are so many challenges, especially in Africa concerning SRHR,” Simon said. She also realised that Botswana has a lot of catching up to do to implement the commitments of the ICPD. “I also realised that issues including youth in power were left out.” Botho Mahlunge on the other hand comes back from the Summit with a conclusion that there are a lot of predicaments that young people find themseles in across the African continent including GBV and teenage pregnancy.

Programmes need to be intensified to ensure implementation. Mahlunge is also of the view that there is minimum youth engagement on issues that affet them the most. “Young people are tired of always convening about the same issues. It’s time to see the outcomes of Summits and Conferences,” Mahlunge said. She advised the youth to also be willing to engage when the oppotunity avails itself and to take up programmes that have been set to help them. Mahlunge said that failure to educate our young people on sexuality “is the reason so many girls are getting pregnant and infected with HIV.”

She said the continued exclusion of young people in rural areas from sexual and reproductive health and rights discussion is also to blame for the prevailing state of affairs. “Young people in rural areas are completely vulnerable. They are so far removed from the little information and services available to young people in urban areas,” Mahlunge observed.

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