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Government actions towards gender equality
     Gender equality institutions
     Adherence with international and regional instruments
     Gender equality in Botswana law
     Gender equality under Customary Law
Women in power
Gender rights violations
DITSHWANELO’s work for gender equality


Botswana has whole-heartedly appreciated and adopted genuine gender equality, rather than focusing solely on women’s rights and development, although the Government’s Women’s Affairs Department remains specifically focused on women and girls. 

In 1997 a Government-commissioned comprehensive review of legislation to identify gender-based discrimination was carried out.  In the past 10 years, Botswana has amended several of its statutes, largely successfully removing their gender biases.

Women can be found in positions of power and decision-making in all sectors of society, from government to private sector, the church to the High Court.  There is even a female Paramount Chief.

According to the United Nations Development Programme 2005 report, women constitute 11% of parliamentary seats in Botswana, 53% of professional and technical workers and 31% of administrators and managers.  The estimated female earned income was $6,617, about 61% of the estimated male earned income (compared with 62% in the UK and 93% in Kenya, the highest ratio in the study).  Based on such statistics, UNDP has ranked Botswana 49th of about 150 countries in its Gender Empowerment Measure, compared with a ranking of 131st in the Human Development Index and 94th among 103 developing countries in its Human Poverty Index.

However, strong societal perceptions continue to hamper efforts to achieve gender equality, with women often sharing the same views as men about women’s place in society, decision-making, marriage and the family, etc.  Customary Law reinforces these perceptions and inequalities, with women receiving unequal treatment regarding issues such as property rights, inheritance, maintenance and custody and guardianship of children.  Some aspects of Customary Law are biased against men, such as practices regarding access to children born out of wedlock.

Reflecting these attitudes, the proportion of women in positions of power remains well below 50%, attitudes or fear about gender equality are resulting in increasing cases of rape and violence against women and women are often ignorant of their rights and lack the power to assert their rights.

DITSHWANELO has taken the decision to main-stream gender equality issues into all our work, as there are a number of organisations which specifically focus on achieving gender equality in Botswana.

This section includes further information about:

Government actions towards gender equality

The Beijing Conference of 1995 served to bring gender issues to the fore in Botswana, leading to the establishment of a National Policy on Women in Development.  In early July 2006 the Labour and Home Affairs Minister said that the 1996 Policy is being reviewed to identify strategies to address existing gender gaps in national development.

The Government has created a Women’s Affairs Department, has ratified a number of international and regional instruments supporting gender equality and has enshrined gender equality in several laws, as detailed below.  Although more could be achieved in these respects, it is Customary Law where the greatest inequalities are perpetuated.

Gender equality institutions

A Women’s Affairs Department, within the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, WAD was created as unit in the ministry in 1981, upgraded to a division in 1987, and upgraded to a full department in 1997.   Its objectives are to:

  • Enhance the status and role of women in decision-making and leadership at all levels;

  • Promote access to and control of factors of production and to remove all forms of legal and socio-cultural constraints to women's participation across all sectors of development;

  • Promote health, especially reproductive health and rights, including family planning;

  • Enhance the education and skills training of women and girls;

  • Eliminate the growing poverty among women particularly female headed households; and

  • Create awareness of gender issues at all levels.

In achieving these objectives WAD also focuses on eliminating violence against women and children, for example, by coordinating the commemoration of “16 days of activism against violence on women and children”, which culminates on 10 December, Human Rights Day.  For more information about this international campaign see the Centre for Women's Global Leadership– CWGL website.

The Botswana National Gender Programme Framework provides a Plan of Action to mainstream the gender strategy within all sectors of government.

WAD services the Botswana National Council on Women, which was appointed by the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs in September 1999 and became operational in January 2000.  The council is the highest advisory body to the government on matters relating to women and its role is to advise on, monitor and interpret government policy concerning women in development matters, and make suggestions on areas to be addressed in comprehensive women and development programme.

The Botswana Caucus for Women in Politics (BCWP), whose creation was spearheaded by Emang Basadi Women’s Association and was established to ensure that gender and women's issues are put on the agenda of the decision-making institutions.

The following organistions also deal with gender issues in Botswana:

  • Gender Programme and Policy Committee, University of Botswana
  • UN-ECA
  • The Commonwealth Secretariat
  • SADC Gender Unit

Adherence with international and regional instruments
Botswana’s Constitution, drafted in 1966, guarantees the equality of all persons irrespective of their sex.  This equality is reconfirmed by Vision 2016, which also states the aim that by 2016 “Botswana will have eradicated negative social attitudes towards the status and role of women [among other specified minorities] and will be free from all forms of sexual harassment”. 

On 17 July 1986 Botswana ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights – ACHPR, which seeks to eliminate discrimination against women and equality before the law.  Ten years later, on 13 August 1996, Botswana signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women – CEDAW.  This is the only human rights treaty that affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces that shape gender roles and family relations.  The following year, 1997, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development was signed and ratified by Botswana.  This Declaration included a commitment to having achieved at least 30% women in political and decision-making structures by the year 2005.  As Women in Power details, after the 2004 elections, the percentage of women legislators in Botswana was only 11%.  Unlike some of the other SADC countries, Botswana has not introduced a quota system.

Botswana has not, however, ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which came into force on 22 December 2000. This Protocol provides international access to justice for women by allowing women who have been denied access within their own countries to have their claims reviewed by a committee of independent experts.

Botswana has also not yet presented State Party reports to CEDAW, which is a requirement of ratification of the Convention. This failure has been attributed to a lack of capacity.

Gender equality in Botswana law

A comprehensive government-commissioned review of all laws which discriminated against women has been completed. Below you find some of the changes made;

  • Following the landmark case of Unity Dow v Attorney-General in 1995, the Citizenship Act was amended to enable Batswana women married to non-citizens to pass on their Botswana citizenship to their children.       

  • In 1998, the Penal Code was amended to have a gender-neutral definition of rape. 

  • The Abolition of Marital Powers Act of 2005 now gives both partners in common law marriage equal powers in the family.  Prior to this legislation, women who were married were regarded as minors and policies in government departments and financial institutions demanded that a married woman obtained the consent of her husband to carry out any transactions and gave the husband all the property rights.  

  • The Deeds Registry Act has since been amended to enable women to register immovable property in their own names.

  • The Mines and Quarries Act now allows women to work underground.

The government has not, however, taken any steps to outlaw marital rape, possibly because of the public confusion about conjugal rights and consent within marriage.

There are also no laws in place to allow a woman to choose to have an abortion, except in the case of rape.

Although these legislative changes improve the position of women, there are also laws which discriminate against men, to the detriment of both the men and of their children.

The Deserted Wives and Children’s Protection Act addresses the maintenance of children born within marriage, but assumes the wife has been deserted by the husband.  It does not say whether a man deserted by his wife can claim maintenance for children.  In the case of divorce or judicial separation, custody generally goes to the mother and the Matrimonial Causes Act  has no specific provisions concerning visitation rights for the non-custodian parent.

The Affiliation Proceedings Act 1999 mitigated the discrimination against children born out of wedlock, allowing women (or guardians and/or care-takers of orphans) to seek maintenance from the father, but does not specifically provide for men to seek maintenance from the mother, when the children are in the father’s custody.

Gender equality under Customary Law

In contrast to Common Law, Customary Law and practice in Botswana continue to perpetuate unequal power relations between men and women.  Men continue to be treated as the head of the family with guardianship rights over women and children.

  • In spite of the introduction of the Abolition of Marital Power Act, women married under Customary Law are not covered by the legislation on abolition of marital power.  The Government does plan to address marriages under Customary Law in the future, but there was opposition to the Abolition of Marital Power Act within the Ntlo ya Dikgosi.

  • A mother has no maintenance rights under Customary Law when children are born out of wedlock.  The father should pay the mother’s father compensation for damaging the family reputation, but has no duty to support the child.  The child’s maternal grandfather has a duty of support towards the child of his unmarried daughter.  This situation reflects the view that a woman remains her father’s ‘property’ until marriage, when she becomes her husband’s property.  Similarly, the father of the child has no visitation rights, as the child is considered to belong to the mother’s family.  This situation discriminates against both the mother and the father, and removes the child’s right to maintenance and to a relationship with his/her biological father.

  • Under Customary Law, if parents are married and separated, the custody of the child(ren) is traditionally granted to the father’s family, with the mother only having the right to visit.  

  • Although Common Law does not allow persons below the age of 18 to marry, under Customary Law a child can be married, which often results in girls being forced into marrying someone against their will.  When married, they are also forced to leave school.

  • Where there is no written Will (which is typically the case), male children’s rights to inheritance under Customary Law take precedence over female children’s rights, the latter sometimes being disinherited.  Children born out of wedlock can only inherit from their mother and generally are not entitled to succeed their father, either.

  • Customary law also has the effect of limiting the resources available to women to protect themselves against sexual assault as male power is embedded in and operates within the rules and practices of social and legal institutions.

Women in Power

As noted under Adherence withInternational and regional instruments, the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development which Botswana signed and ratified in 1997 included a commitment to having achieved at least 30% women in political and decision-making structures by the year 2005.  This objective has not yet been achieved, while SADC wants to increase the quota to 50%.

Although political and economic power still rests mainly with men, there are a number of women now in positions of leadership and decision-making in traditionally male sectors of the economy.

  • According to the United Nations Development Programme 2005 report, women constitute 11% of parliamentary seats in Botswana.  Emang Basadi Women’s Association similarly reports that the percentage of women legislators dropped from 18% to 9% after the 2004 elections.  Emang Basadi’s Political Education Project specifically aims to promote women’s participation in politics and decision-making.  In an interview in Mmegi Monitor on 17 August 2005, they said “A lot of women contested but were not voted. This is an indication that people do believe that women are not equipped to hold leadership roles”.

    • Out of the current Cabinet of 19 members, five are women.

    • Of Botswana’s 61 elected Members of Parliament, 11 are women.

    • Of the 15 members of the ‘Ntlo ya Dikgosi’ (House of Chiefs), three are women.

  • Women hold a number of other key positions, including: 
    • The Central Bank Governor of Botswana: Dr Linah Mohohlo.

    • The first woman Attorney-General – Dr Athaliah Molokomme, appointed 2005.

    • The new role of Director of Public Prosecution – Ms Leatile Dambe, appointed in October 2005, following the enactment of the constitutional Amendment Act which created the post.

    • University of Botswana Deputy Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs – Professor Lydia Nyathi-Ramahobo, appointed in 2005.

Botswana also has ordained female priests in some of the major Christian denominations such as the Dutch Reformed Church. The decision to appoint a female priest within the Dutch Reformed Church was met with some hostility.

The SADC Council of NGOs (SADC-CNGO) recommended that the current target of women in decision making positions be raised to 50% and also called for the encouragement of the traditional leadership structures to address the issues of gender equality and gender based violence that make women and girls vulnerable.  The Council also called for the repealing of gender discriminatory legislation which encourage harmful practices against girls.  SADC-CNGO has also suggested that that the region should elevate the Declaration on Gender and Development into a protocol in order to accelerate gender equality.

Gender rights violations

Despite changes in Common Law, gender inequality continues to be strong in practice, especially in more traditional and rural areas. 

Women's subordination is deeply ingrained in the consciousness of both men and women.  This was indicated by Emang Basadi’s comments, detailed in Women in Power, that the fact that a lot of women contested the 2004 elections, but were not voted in “is an indication that people do believe that women are not equipped to hold leadership roles” and that most of “the registered voters are females, but they still prefer male counterparts [candidates] to the females”.

DITSHWANELO’s key concerns are as follows.

  • There is a large number of female-headed households (FHH) in Botswana, estimated to be 50-60% in rural areas and slightly higher in villages with populations of 500+.  Female headed households often face more economic pressure and poverty than other households.

  • Women and girls are biologically 50-70% more susceptible to HIV infection through sexual intercourse than men (the chance of transmission male to female being approximately 0.09%, depending on circumstances).   There are also several socio-economic reasons for women, particularly those aged 15-25, to have much higher infection rates than men. 

  • Demeaning views of women and girls continue to be acted out in sexual harassment and demand for sexual favours in return for money or other benefits (which have greater impacts now due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS).  For example:

    • There are reports of parents selling their daughters into effective prostitution, by forcing their daughters to be sexually active with older men (who in most cases are married men) in return for money or other benefits.  This practice is not only causing emotional and physical trauma, but greatly increasing the girls’ risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS.

    • There are claims in the media that University of Botswana students are being offered off campus accommodation in return for sexual favours.

    • Newspapers have claimed that students are being forced to have sex with teachers. 

    • The many reports of sexual harassment even include accounts by members of staff at the National Assembly that they are being sexually harassed by some Members of Parliament.

  • The statistics for rape, defilement and indecent assault have continued to increase. Many of the reports indicate that these assaults reflect men seeking to control women through physical violence, often accompanied by emotional and psychological violation and degradation. 

  • Botswana law does not recognise rape within marriage.  However, there are many studies which have demonstrated the high level of abuse and rape within marriage, most of which goes unreported.

  • The ultimate expression of these attitudes is seen in the increasing numbers of so called ‘passion killings’, or femicides – the killing of women by intimate or estranged partners.  According to Police reports, there were 46 reported “passion killings” in 2003, 54 in 2004 and 62 during 2005. The woman is usually killed by a male partner or estranged partner, who often then commits suicide.

  • Based on such statistics, UNDP has ranked Botswana 49th of about 150 countries in its Gender Empowerment Measure, compared with a ranking of 131st in the Human Development Index and 94th among 103 developing countries in its Human Poverty Index)

  • According to the UNDP Report 2005, women constitute 53% of professional and technical workers, but only 31% of administrators and managers.  Gender stereotypes are also reflected in a range of professions with various impacts:

    • The greater number of female than male teachers in schools (which is common to many countries, world over) reduces the male influence on students.

    • In the print media, 41% of practitioners are women, compared with a Southern African regional average of 22%.  However, the “Gender and Media Baseline Study”, conducted by MISA and Gender Links, which analysed 25,110 news items produced during September 2002, found that news in Botswana, in all mediums, is told primarily through the voices and perspectives of men.  There are few women sources quoted in reports, other than stories relating to issues such as gender violence, and no women's voices cited in the reporting of matters relating to science and technology, crime, agriculture and religion.  The issues which female journalists are allowed to cover are also limited, for example to entertainment and the courts.
      Such a strong influence of men on public views is likely to result in biased reporting and continue to reinforce the gender stereotypes in society.

  • The enrolment of girls’ in primary and secondary education is at par with that of boys. However, although the education system is based on gender equality, there continues to be socio-economic influences on reasons for girls being more likely to drop out, including girls being more likely to stay at home to look after sick relatives, pregnancy (government policies allow girls to return to school after 84 days leave, but in practice they rarely do) and forced marriages under Customary Law.  Household economics are a main cause of school drop out, but affect boys more than girls.

DITSHWANELO’s work for gender equality

DITSHWANELO works towards achieving gender equality by incorporating it in our work to advocate for legislative changes, providing information to the public and offering paralegal services.  Gender equality is not a key proactive focus for us because other organisations specifically work to achieve gender equality, including Emang Basadi Women’s Association, Women’s Shelter, Women & Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), Botshabelo Rehabilitation Crisis Centre (BORECC), and Women Against Rape (WAR).

Our activities include.

  • Incorporating gender equality into rights publications, such as teaching materials for schools and creating specific publications for women, such as our Guide on the Rights of Domestic Workers.

  • Addressing issues in our press statements, including for International Women’s Day on 8 March and, in 2005, focusing on Violence against women and children on International Human Rights Day, 10 December.

  • Supporting joint civil society actions, such as the “16 days of activism against violence on women and children”, which culminates on 10 December, Human Rights Day.

  • Incorporating issues such as gender equality into our Outreach Programme’s workshops, community discussions and presentations.

  • Participating in formal networks and working in partnership with other organisations on gender equality issues, including involvement in the Kagisano Women’s Shelter Project Committee and facilitating a cross-organisational meeting about the so-called “passion killings”.

  • Showing films relating to gender equality during our annual Human Rights Film Festival.


Could include WLSA - (but they only have the Zambia site and it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 1997 and doesn’t have much of use on it, other than a bit of info about what they do.

A Women’s Affairs Department, within the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, WAD

According to the UNDP Report 2005, women constitute 53% of professional and technical workers, but only 31% of administrators

on 13 August 1996, Botswana signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women – CEDAW.  This is the only human rights treaty that affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces that shape gender roles and family relations. 

The Centre for Women's Global Leadership – CWGL develops and facilitates women's leadership for women's human rights and social justice worldwide.  Founded in 1989, it is a unit of the Institute for Women's Leadership (IWL), a consortium of six women's programs at Rutgers University.  CWGL has a particular emphasis on violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and socio-economic well-being.  The Centre includes a resource centre and it is now making reports available online.  CWGL has a policy and advocacy programme aiming to integrate gender and women's human rights into the work of local, national, regional and international institutions, including through the coordination of International Mobilisation Campaigns, such as the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence” campaign – for which it provides an Action Kit and wide range of resources and links to help those campaigning CWGL 16 Days website.  It also organises Global Campaigns for Women's Human Rights, to coincide with significant international events, such as the 2000 five year UN review of the Beijing Platform for Action.

UN Women’s Watch [http://www.un.org/womenwatch ], includes the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Commission on the Status of Women – CSW [], Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women – OSAGI and ‘Network’, the UN women's newsletter, which serves as a forum for dissemination and exchange of information on gender issues. It provides regular updates on gender statistics, recent resolutions, administrative instructions, and other policies and issues concerning gender.

United Nations Development Fund for Women – UNIFEM [] is the women's fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to programmes and strategies to foster women's empowerment and gender equality, with a particular focus on: (1) reducing feminized poverty, (2) ending violence against women, (3) reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls, and (4) achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war.

UNIFEM Links includes many links to external women’s rights websites.


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