While Malebogo Molefhe once played basketball on Botswana’s national team, she is now confined to a wheelchair after surviving a violent attack by her boyfriend at the time. In 2009, Molefhe’s boyfriend shot her eight times before turning the gun on himself. This particular type of attack is called “passion killing,” and has unfortunately become a trend in Botswana over the last 15 to 20 years, according to Molefhe. In the same year, the Botswana police reported 89 deaths from such killings, 82 of which were deaths of women.
On a similar note, more than two-thirds of women in Botswana have experienced gender-based violence at some point in their lifetime. However, only 1.2% of women who experienced this type of violence reported it to the authorities, suggesting that many women in Botswana may have given up on the system that is supposed to keep them safe.
Now, Molefhe uses her awareness of gender-based violence to educate young girls about the dangers of enduring such abuse. Her human rights activism involves telling women and young girls that widespread violence is abnormal, unnecessary, and wrong. Helping girls understand that violence can be life-changing – as it was for her – and encouraging them to report any violence they experience gives these girls the chance to break free from a cycle of violence and reach their full potential.
Molefhe’s work earned her a United States Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award.
In an interview with Teen Vogue, Molefhe explained why she chose to speak out specifically about gender-based violence. “I needed to raise awareness for women who may be going through a situation in their lives and not knowing how to accept it,” said Molefhe. “My country has a high record of violence, gender-based violence, and we needed to find ways to eradicate the violence perpetrated toward women.”
One of Molefhe’s methods for tackling the problem of violence is telling women to be aware of signs that someone is considering becoming violent or is likely to act brutally. “I tell women to look at the signs while they still have the time,” Molefhe told NPR. “Walk out while they still have the chance. They may not have the same opportunity as me. Some women have lost their lives because of violence. Others have been locked up in a mental institution because they’ve lost their mind because of the beatings or abuse.”
Additionally, Molefhe focuses on speaking with young girls about the dangers of violence so that they never believe that they deserve to be assaulted or that such behaviors are in any way acceptable. “When you’re younger, you do not understand the impact certain things can have in your life,” said Molefhe. “It’s important to start with young girls…so when they get to an older age they understand the importance of not being taken advantage of. That they pursue their career knowing it is important to struggle for yourself … as opposed to relying on someone else for that validation.”
Acting as a role model for the women she’s fighting for, Molefhe refuses to let the abuse she endured define her life and keep her from doing the things that bring her joy. She is currently training to play basketball in the Paralympics and encouraging other women to get involved as well.
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