An SRHR Champion’s experience
Ruth Kedikilwe, a #RightByHer champion from Botswana, shares her experience on how the Covid-19 has affected her work. #RightByHer is a campaign that is pushing for the implementation of continental commitments, specifically the Maputo Protocol and Maputo Plan of Action. The campaign works with champions including young men and women, First Ladies, parliamentarians, journalists, feminists and religious leaders to raise awareness in their circles of influence and push for implementation of policies on gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Africa.
My name is Ruth Kedikilwe. I have worked as a journalist based in Gaborone, Botswana for the past 14 years. I am particularly interested in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) because I have witnessed a lot of vilification of sexuality in our African culture.
I grew up in a conservative society where sexuality is considered a taboo topic. As young people we learnt about sex and sexuality from the streets and the mass media. We couldn’t dare discuss the topic with our parents who only spoke about sex to instil fear and never to be questioned about it.
The #RightByHer campaign is very close to my heart because in my country issues around sexuality especially for young women are swept under the rug. Teenage pregnancy is rife, and men get away with statutory rape because they either flex their financial muscle or young girls are not aware that they are being violated. What communities lack the most in this instance is knowledge and information. Through this campaign, young women are able to take responsibility for their sexuality and influence behavioural change in upcoming generations. This will ultimately improve the relations between men and women, and consequently reduce gender-based violence, as well as improve family planning and the livelihood of our people.
Last October, I moved from fulltime mainstream print journalism to start up a media consultancy company to train journalists so that they improve how they report on SRHR issues. The #RightByHer materials were instrumental in developing the training manuals for journalists and communication officers, giving them information on how to build a rapport with each other to effectively implement their respective mandates. Going forward, I hope our media consultancy will expand and lead to increased coverage of SRHR issues in various media across the continent.
Covid-19 has tremendously affected my work which entails addressing large gatherings of people during training, and travelling both in and out of the country. Our operations have been limited to working online only. And when the caregivers looking after my elderly parents had to go back to their homes because of the lockdown, I have had to relocate from my primary residence to go and care for them, unlike my brother.
Secondly, in most newsrooms, women have been requested to work from home and it is the men operating the newsrooms, making it a challenge to get the voices of women in the news. Reporting on SRHR has also significantly taken a backseat to focus on the impact of COVID 19. Here in Botswana, a large proportion of the population is HIV positive so the movement restrictions may deter patients from getting the required supply of antiretroviral therapy (ARV) drugs.
Some of the recommendations I can make to my fellow SRHR champions is to keep communication lines open, to continue pumping out as much information as possible, and develop more online publishing platforms to ensure as many people as possible are reached with messages.