Today is World Aids Day and our gender activist on Day 7 of 16 Days of Activism is Dr Mmapula Kebaneilwe, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew and Hebrew Bible at the University of Botswana. Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV and Aids in the world. Botswana is also a country with a strong national commitment in responding to this health crisis: notably, being the first country in the region to provide universal free antiretroviral treatment to people living with HIV.
Mmapula is a womanist activist and has published on how the Bible can offer paradigms for women’s resistance in the face of vulnerability to HIV infection and to Aids. Here is her article on the character of Vashti from the book of Esther.
Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?
I am Dr Mmapula Diana Kebaneilwe, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana. I am a womanist scholar and my research and activist interests centre on women’s rights and experiences.
What’s your involvement with gender activism? Does your work intersect with gender activism? How?
I am involved in gender activism through my research and publications. I have keen interest in all issues that involve the welfare of women and girls in my society. My PhD thesis was on the Woman of Courage in Proverbs 31 and I read this poem for and within the patriarchal culture of Botswana, which has seen women suffocate in many ways. My conclusion is that men and women are created equal but that there remains an urgent need to reflect this equality – especially in our Botswana culture(s) that have long mistreated and that continue to relegate women and girls to the margins, to everyone’s detriment. My research has shown that in my context women and girls continue to experience multiple ills that are perpetuated by gender inequality. As part of this, our women and girls experience horrendous acts of gender-based violence – such as rape and murder – which are so rampant in Botswana.
How does or could The Shiloh Project relate to your work and activism?
I believe that The Shiloh Project will create a platform, which will allow me to carry forward my research on the issues mentioned above. As a scholar of the Bible the project will allow me to explore further, through research on gender issues, the ways in which rape culture and religion intersect in my own context. I hope to be able to get involved in my communities here in Botswana and to find out about the ways rape culture manifests and how religion both contributes to rape culture and how indeed religion might also be used to curb it.
The issue of rape culture in Botswana is one that causes me considerable concern as women and girls get beaten, raped and killed (predominantly by male perpetrators) every single day. I hope with The Shiloh Project I will have the chance to do more and to contribute to effective changes in gender policy in Botswana.
How are you going to get active to resist gender-based violence and inequality?
I am going to get active to resist gender-based violence by doing further research on the issue and disseminating the findings of my research, so as to reach the wider community. I intend to work closely with communities in order to learn more from real people’s lived experiences of gender-based violence and also to explore critically laws and policies on the same. My aim is to be able to influence policy makers to better the lives of primarily Botswana women and girls through creating legal channels aimed at the protection of our female population. At present such polies seem lax.