Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?
My name is Dr Rosinah Gabaitse and I research and teach on the topic of Biblical Studies at the University of Botswana. I wear many hats: I am an activist, a mother of three sons, an academic and a member of the global community, speaking out and fighting against violence perpetrated on anyone vulnerable, including women and girls. Currently I am a postdoctoral fellow, funded by the Humboldt Foundation, based at the University of Bamberg in Germany.
What’s your involvement with gender activism? Does your work intersect with gender activism? How?
We live in a gendered world and human beings are categorised according to their socially constructed and assigned gender. Unfortunately, gender is widely used to determine who has power, who is rendered voiceless, who speaks when and how. We cannot escape the many ways that gender has been used by societies to silence, oppress, and deny access to resources. In my own context violence against women perpetrated most often by men is sadly common. Consequently, my involvement in gender dynamics is personal because I am a woman, and therefore socially assigned the female gender, which has left me, like many women in Botswana, disadvantaged in terms of access to resources, sexual harassment, and being undermined in the work place. Because this is unjust, gender activism is part and parcel of who I am as a woman inhabiting patriarchal structures. I am overt about teaching egalitarian values and I speak out against the inequality between men and women and between heterosexual and homosexual persons. In Botswana, male homosexual activity is classified a crime against nature – and I resist the injustice of this. I teach that God rejoices in equality and respectful, tolerant and peaceful coexistence, hence my involvement with gender activism.
My work intersects with gender activism in many ways. First, as I teach at the university, my standing in front of the students as a female teaching Biblical Studies is in and of itself engaging in some form of gender activism. Theology is primarily the reserve of men in most cultures, Botswana included. So, when I teach already ordained ministers or trainee preachers about the Bible and the life-giving ways of reading it, I am already making a point about gender. Teaching theology as a woman is transgressing boundaries on its own in a discipline dominated by men, like my own. Further, I am intentional about being a gender activist. I am intentional about speaking out against, for example, the violence of rape and murder poured out against the concubine in Judges 19, or Hosea’s wife Gomer, or the many other stories of violence narrated in the Bible. After engaging these texts of terror (a phrase from Phyllis Trible), I require that my audiences (be it in the church or classroom) contextualize the biblical texts in terms of the social realities of our own communities where intimate femicide, shaming women in public, and sexualized physical violence are rife and tearing our communities apart. I am intentional about engaging the many hurts and abuses that women endure, just because they are women. I also write about violence against women as I reflect on how we have bestowed males with enormous power often by using a few select biblical texts, sometimes with violent consequences for women. However, I also know it is true that the same Bible that has been used to legitimate and support violence is life-giving and can also be used to raise up a man who abhors violence against women. Therefore, my work engages the Bible to deconstruct violence and reconstruct the life-giving power of the Gospel.
How does or could The Shiloh Project relate to your work and activism?
The Shiloh Project engages scholars and communities on the topic of rape culture. Obviously the people who are most vulnerable to rape are women and children, because they have been rendered vulnerable and less empowered by dominant social structures. Resisting this is exactly what I do in my little corner in Botswana and The Shiloh Project gives me a forum and a resource for my activities, now and going forward.
How are you going to get active to resist gender-based violence and inequality?
I am already active in this area and I will continue to be so. Like I mentioned above, my teaching at the University of Botswana mainstreams topics on violence against women – from what the Bible teaches or does not teach about gender-based violence, to how the churches are silent about the issue, to how their preaching contributes to violence against women and how violent men are constructed through particular and toxic kinds of biblical interpretation.
In 2016, I and another young lady from Botswana, Wendy Maano, intentionally selected one school and worked together to teach children about violence. We had a series of conversations with children about non-violent ways of communicating and being, teaching them to stand up against violence against the vulnerable girl child in particular. We also had a series of conversations on violence with parents. As part of my community service and in my capacity as motivational speaker, I engage young people in schools on issues of violence against women, in order defuse rape culture manifestations early on. The boy child, who may have a propensity towards committing violence later on in life, needs to be taught very early on what violence against women is. I want to share a saying going around in a group I belong to made up of men and women and called ‘Women and Men Against All Sexual Abuse of Children’, which goes like this: ‘Not all men are actual rapists. Some are rape apologists. Some tell rape jokes. Some are victim blamers. Some are silent.’ The saying captures where very many men are and my work with boys really aims at teaching them the ways of responding to gender-based violence. Of course it is important not to commit acts of gender-based violence but things won’t actually get better until men not only forsake violence but also denounce and resist and challenge other forms of gender-based inequality. This is particularly important within a community like mine where there still isn’t much open talk about the topic of rape and gender-based injustice.