My days are consumed like smoke, and my bones burn. My heart is smitten and withered like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread I watch as a sparrow alone upon the housetop, as the future of our sisters and daughters is captured.
Justice must be served for the men in our community who day after day char the future of our young women—“top dogs” they laughingly call themselves. Further, we must protect and empower our sisters and daughters to save them from becoming a statistic, fallen into the cruel blackness of HIV/AIDS affliction.
As I raise my concerns, a man I encounter jokes that since 2006 women have dominated this mining town, though nothing could be further from the truth. At that time, the area blossomed with new job opportunities, thanks to the boom of the fabric industry, so many young and middle-aged women (about 10,000!) flocked to this town in search of greener pastures. He explains that the ratio of women to men rose to four to one, allowing the men to gain the habit of taking multiple partners into their beds. As a result, HIV/AIDS infection spread like wildfire, and even as the fabric industry collapsed and women returned to their villages, the top dogs were still hungry.
Top dogs are the most highly paid men from the mine. They buy very luxurious cars. They call themselves top dogs because of their salaries that beat all the others. Yet what they refuse to admit and what our community refuses to confront is that they are the force behind the desolation in Selibe-Phikwe caused by the monster HIV/AIDS. Today, they have put the Selibe-Phikwe senior secondary school girls under virtual siege.
Believing they are entitled by their riches and status, top dogs are in the practice of having many women. Through this behavior, they have perpetuated the disease, often becoming infected themselves and their blood is crying with revenge. Many women have also become infected and in a town where the incidences of HIV/AIDS is the highest in all of Botswana, the few who are left untouched are all too often the children. As innocent as they are, as young as they are, as healthy as they are, and as beautiful as they are, girls as young as 14 have become the desire of the perpetrators beds. The top dogs believe them to be fresh; they even believe that they can wash their own blood of infection by sleeping with them, driving them to seek them out with even more passion.
All the while, poverty deprives so many women in Selibe Phikwe that they may be forced to engage in the secretive trade of their bodies among men. What is worse, single infected mothers may be driven to desperation by such unfathomable hunger that they send their daughters into the dangerous jaws of the top dogs. Having been “bought,” a girl must abide by his rules and oblige his wishes for unprotected sex.This town needs more attention, I in particular cannot blame the people. I blame the systems in Selibe-Phikwe. There is not enough awareness and the pride of men is robbing our nation of its future. The confrontation is general and if things were specified hopefully the disease would be combated.
"What is wrong with Selebi-Phikwe?" asks the Selebi-Phikwe District AIDS Coordinator, Lamech Myengwa. I believe that females are infected at such a high rate in Selibe-Phikwe because they are unemployed, living in poverty, and hunger .They are forced to sleep with men without condoms without knowing the status of those men. Newspapers, billboards, and television advertisements try to encourage behavior change, but how can this help? For years these efforts have failed to be sufficient..
As a woman who has seen the torture of other women I believe I can be the source of their empowerment. Today, I proclaim that there is a need to motivate and empower Selibe-Phikwe, and, in particular, its mothers and its youth. Let us support them in a way that enables them to stay away from activities that make them vulnerable; let us demand justice be served to those top dogs who continue to devastate our community. My only wish and proposal is for the government to engage NGO’s and churches, to be mandated to empower girl child.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Op-Eds.