Tshepo Ricki Kgositau has always had great interest in advocating for marginalised groups of people. Having being a child rights activist from a young age, she now focuses on issues pertaining to the transgender populations, transgender persons and gender non-confirming individuals in the Southern African region and continent

Her advocacy stems from years of community development and social justice. In secondary school she was part of the Girl-Boy-Education-Movement (GBEM), supported by UNICEF, which was aimed at protecting vulnerable, disadvantaged, marginalised children to remain in school and ensuring access to education. During her university days, as a member of the student association she lead the overhaul of the anti-bullying clauses in the campus-security protocol to protect students who were being bullied and harassed because of their sexual orientation.

This began to carve her advocacy path as she had to engage on various platforms such as the media and public forums to raise awareness about issues of gender identity and sex-orientation.

After graduating with a major in International Relations and Criminology from Monash University South Africa, Ricki volunteered for the Rainbow Identity Association (RIA) in 2011- a trans and intersex focused organisation in Gaborone. She was later appointed National Advocacy Officer and tasked with the objective to increase awareness across the country, while establishing a network with other organisations around the continent that served the same purpose.  In 2014 she joined Gender Dynamix in South Africa as a Regional Programmes Coordinator overseeing its programmes around Southern Africa. Working at regional level presents a perspective that there is more power to change mindsets and increase awareness and narratives when there is collaboration among organisations that are also advocating for the transgender community in different countries.

Advocating for the transgender community

Advocating for the transgender community

“Organisations in different countries are facing the same challenges, so we learn from each other on our successes and challenges. This led to the formation of Southern African Trans Forums (SATF) – consultative forums on transgender issue,” she said Ricki is also a director on a Global Fund Programme, KP Reach –that is intended to take on initiatives that will strengthen the capacity of SATF’s advocacy.

The funded project is expected to generate its own evidence and data to inform the regions’ advocacy. Governments work with numbers or evidence, thus the SATF initiatives will use the generated data to lobby states to effect change; law reforms and service provision reforms.” “Governments are currently not doing enough in effecting change, as movements advocating for transgender issues we have taken it upon ourselves to be the driving force of the evidence generation that will inform policy development that will see our efforts become more effective.” Ricki admits when it comes to the transgender discourse a lot of grassroots work still needs to be done. A multi pronged approach that involves investing in extensive public education as well as establishment of policy that trickling down to a receptive environment for uptake. She says one of the best ways for effective public awareness is to localise your message to specific target groups, using life situations they are used to. “We also try to use historical examples, familiar concept and that are pro inclusivity and pro-non-judgement beliefs as tools of reference to further explain to the public to understand what is meant by a transgender person.”

She admits that there has not been macro impact yet, however keen interests by governments to work with organisations that work with the LGBTI community is crucial in building towards inclusive societies. “Governments need to realise that ensuring relevant rights and policies catering to the transgender community goes beyond just creating a welcoming environment to all persons. It also has economic impact in terms of retaining skills, talent, and young people in the country as unwelcoming environment leads to transgender person relocating to more welcoming countries,” she highlighted.“In the case of Botswana, when I was at RIA, the Ministry of Health took initiative to do a study that was meant to assess the specific needs of the LGBTI community.” With the findings, Ministry of Health was able to use the recommendations to draft the reform of the national health policy and the national health charter, unfortunately the project has not made much progress.

One of the major problems in Botswana is that Botswana is a tolerant nation. “You tolerate something that you do not like –tolerance is often short-lived. For Botswana to become an inclusive society the country needs to work towards acceptance and inclusion, instead of tolerance. A state of acceptance and tolerance would encompass deliberate efforts to bring in a marginalised group in clear thought process of how they are included in the human rights.” Ricki shares.

The country however is in a better place than other countries. The judicial system holds up its responsibility of application of universal human rights as a custodian of human rights. “Botswana is what we refer to as ‘tipping countries’. Although there are no policies in place, the court system is human rights conscious and uncompromising. An example of such litigation was evident when LEGABIBO was granted permission to register the organisation.”

“Botswana is at a stage where there is room to inform policies and to drive extensive public awareness. I foresee a situation where the court system’s decision will trickle down to policy reform and contribute to an accepting society,” she concludes.

Read PART 1 were Ricki shares educational insight about transgender persons.

By: Lenah Kedikaetswe