Cabinet Minister, Tshireletso is not shy to speak her mind
Although she was verbally attacked by scores of members of the public on social media following her public plea for government to consider legalising abortion, the Assistant Minister of Local government and Member of Parliament for Mahalapye East, Botlogile Tshireletso is unfazed.
So resolute is she that she plans to lobby other MPs and women organisations to put pressure on government in support of her cause.
In an interview this week, Tshireletso said she made the call because she is a woman, a mother and a people’s representative.
Q. Your request for government to consider legalising abortion was received with mixed reactions. Don’t you think you may have made a political mistake?
No. I am a woman and I know the pains that can be part of womanhood. It was really painful for me to read about the six heads of dumped babies in The Voice and I just felt it was about time we do something about it. I know many people including my electorates may not like what I said but it has to be said nonetheless. Batswana are a very conservative and a Christian society but we have to do it for the young women and mothers who find themselves stuck with unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.
We need a government owned clinic where mothers who find themselves with unwanted pregnancies could get help.
Q. The fear is that if abortion was to be legalised people would abort willy-nilly. Is that the direction you want the country to take?
If it was to happen abortions would be regulated and it wouldn’t be performed on advanced pregnancies. So no, it would not be done willy-nilly. I am a mother and I like children. We have many other women who want children. There would also be counseling provided so that women end up making informed decisions.
Women need to be free to make choices that have a direct impact on their future. Women are vulnerable to all sorts of abuses including marital rape where a husband can forcefully impregnate his wife. Others are left pregnant when a lover walks out on them. There are so many uncountable problems faced by young women of today. But my concern is that women do engage in unsafe and backyard abortions. These things are not openly talked about. That is why when people die from unsafe abortions, their parents or relatives would rather cover up with untrue stories.
Q. You have stated that since our neighbours in South Africa have legalised it and many other countries do it as well and there are no problems.Why should it be a problem in our country? Some believe that this statement may come to haunt you in the next general elections. What is your comment?
I do not want to be scared of my electorates. I form part of the Legislature and whatever I do is in the best interest of the majority. What I know is people are dying and abortions are being done with or without a law. All I am asking for is for it to be made safe to preserve lives of the young mothers.
Q. Do you plan tabling a motion on this matter in the near future?
Private motions are brought by backbenchers and I am in Cabinet. We are in the front bench and our job is to make laws. I can only lobby other MPs to table the motion, failure of which I can lobby women organisations to start a counseling clinic for young pregnant women.
Q. Enough of the abortion topic then. You have been in politics for quite a long time. How are you surviving in the male dominated field?
It is very hard being a woman politician in Botswana. I have fought a lot of battles. My journey of politics had many ups and downs. I had to fight mudsling politics peddled by men and women alike.
Q. I have heard in several occasions some MPS mocking you for “your lack of education.” How does that feel?
It is politics. I am in fact well educated. I studied Politics in Russia for two and half years and I have a certificate for that. I am wondering if that is not education. You know something, sometimes one can be educated without necessarily being certificated and one can be certificated without necessarily being educated. Parliament is full of the latter. I also studied in Kenya for nine months. They are doing this because I am a woman yet some of them did not get further than I did in a classroom.
Q. So many of the attacks are gender based?
They are and clouded with mere jealousy and cheap politics. Some male MPS want to pull me down and are cowards. They always talk cheap to pull women down. I won’t let them win this one. I am going to pull my socks and stand up to the challenge. I worked hard for myself, from school into the corporate Industry, to the Council, to Parliament, to chief whip and to Cabinet. Many of them (MPs) wish they could have achieved what I have, but still with their certificates and degrees, they haven’t achieved this much. This is only done to women.
Q. Do women have equal opportunities as men to reach governing positions and influence decision-making at that level?
Yes and no. Even when women are educated men always find a way of pulling them down. It is not easy but it is possible. Look at the former women MPs, where are they now? The likes of Moggie Mbaakanyi, Shillah Tlou and the others, they were always castigated for failing at this or that, yet they were learned.
Q. Are Batswana women interested in politics?
They are interested. It is only that they are shy and in politics there is character assassination. You would be told that you are ugly, fat and you use ‘thigh power’ to get to the top and women are naturally sensitive people who cannot stand all that nonsense. And again Batswana women are afraid to lose. If they fail once, they do not try again in the next elections. That is how it is and is probably financial constraints that keep them from contesting several times.
Generally women do not have enough resources and time to contest for elections. They have so much in their hands. They have to manage their houses including caring for the children, husbands and brothers.
Q. President Khama had in the past been castigated for using demeaning phrases like when he jokingly said your weight could break shock absorbers of government vehicle, did you take kindly to the joke?
I don’t know what the fuss was all about. Yes it was a man saying that, but it came from my age-mate. You see in our culture, especially in Gamangwato you can always joke with your age-mates and it is acceptable. He is the President of the Country, but he is a person as well. He has his own sense of humour. Even internationally, women politicians asked me why I let him pass a joke like that, but I told them that I was not offended at all. We always joke and that was a harmless joke.
Q. What do you think needs to be done in order for more women to be in politics?
I think we need an electoral reform and create constituencies especially for women. Let women compete against other women. We have fifty-seven constituencies and men won fifty-five. Do you think it is going to be easy for women to topple them in the next general elections? No ways.