In March 2017 Katie Edwards and I travelled to Botswana and South Africa for one week to make a presentation at the University of Botswana and attend a workshop at the Ujamaa Centre in Pietermaritzburg. We received support for this visit from the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) Newton Fund and the University of Leeds research fund. Our purpose was to explore possibilities for collaboration towards a larger-scale project on intersections of religion and rape culture. (We have since submitted an application for a grant.)
Our time was busy and productive. On Monday 20 March we gave one presentation each: I went first and discussed what rape culture is and how it relates to texts of the Hebrew Bible. Following this, Katie presented on biblical imagery in popular culture, with particular focus on how it promotes sexist and racist stereotyping, as well as gender-based violence.
This went on to open an extended discussion on religion and rape culture in Botswana. Representatives from the Kagisano Women’s Shelter, women’s rights NGO Emang Basadi (‘Women Rise Up!) and LGBTQ rights group Legabibo (‘Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana’), a sub-group of Botswana human rights organization Ditshwanelo were present, as were a number of staff specializing in gender studies, among them Dr. Mmapula Kebaneilwe (womanist scholar of the Hebrew Bible), Professor Musa Dube (postcolonial-feminist scholar of the New Testament and authority in HIV and Aids theology) and Dr. Maude Dikobe (former Chair of the University of Botswana’s Gender Policy and Programme Committee and Senior Lecturer in Literature and the Expressive Arts of Africa and the African Diaspora).
On the following day we met with the Honourable Justice Unity Dow, Minister for Basic Education, to discuss what is happening currently and what more can still be done to teach awareness of gender-based violence. In the evening we met artistic director Moratiwa Molema, and Drs Mary Lederer and Leloba Molema, two of the editors of a forthcoming anthology of women’s writing in and about Botswana, with a view to organizing a live performance of excerpts depicting gender-based violence, to be followed by a panel discussion with audience involvement. This will need to wait until we obtain funding.
The next day we departed for Pietermaritzburg to meet Professor Gerald West and other members of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Ujamaa Centre. The Ujamaa Centre has been a hub of socially engaged Bible study for well over twenty years. It is here that both contextual Bible criticism and the ‘reading with’ strategy were pioneered. One major focus of the centre has been on reading with women vulnerable to and affected by gender-based violence. This has grown into the Tamar Project, which now provides many resources and strategies online. There is much to learn from the staff and participants of the Ujamaa Centre – more than such a brief visit would permit. We also determined that our own approaches would be rather different – not least, because our own position and context are so different from that of Ujamaa’s workshop leaders and participants. We really hope that we can take some of our ideas forward – so, here’s hoping for that grant