The Rights of Women in Botswana

Nozizwe W. Ntesang
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” – G. D Anderson. 

It is upon the quote above that my desire for African women is entirely based on. Country leaders harp on daily about how entitled we are, as people, to fundamental rights. They constantly speak of how our rights are to be protected and upheld at all times. I’ve found this to be true; unless you’re a Black Woman in Africa.  

Firstly, let’s start off with Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of (Batswana) Women. This is commonly known as SRHR and simply comprises of;   
  • sexual health,
  • sexual rights,  
  • reproductive health and  
  • reproductive rights. 

In terms of sexual health and sexual rights, we are lagging. In this day and age, we still allow cultural norms to supersede the importance of candid conversations about sex. There is still a lot of shame attached to sex, especially when it comes to the girl child. We are taught from a very young age to preserve ourselves and thoughts on sex for fear of being labelled ‘loose.’ This couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. If anything, this might be the source of the problem. We need to unlearn the taboo that is associated with sex and instead start embracing our sexualities. They are after all human nature. 

A typical example is how the boy child is often encouraged to have relationships with numerous women. This, despite us living in the perilous era of startling HIV/AIDS rates, is deemed as a sign of manhood. It is something that young men are taught to be proud of. On the other side of the coin, however, women are encouraged to remain ‘virtuous’ and ‘pure.’ This is a problematic stance considering the same people who are being taught very different things are the very same ones to engage in sex with one another. This notion takes away from women’s agency which is something we all ought to be committed to rectifying. 

With regards to reproductive health and rights, we are yet again failing women dismally. Again, women’s agency is reduced to almost nothing. An abortion can only be attained in limited circumstances such as where the fetus poses a threat to the mother or when the pregnancy was as a result of an ancestral relationship or as a result of rape.  

But what about the women that don’t fit squarely into the above qualifications? They have to resort to back-door abortions which either lead to death or future complications with birth at a later stage. A woman should not be compelled to have children that she does not want nor have the means to take care of. By legalizing abortion, we’d be giving women back their autonomy – which is a crucial step in achieving women’s emancipation. This needs to become a serious priority for all governments.  

Secondly, women’s rights and concerns can’t become a priority unless women’s rights are defended and protected by women in places of power and parliament. 

“Botswana fared badly on women empowerment especially in political leadership and those in cabinet, revealed SADC Programme Officer for Research, Gender Unit Monitoring and Evaluation Elizabeth Kakukuru at the ongoing SADC summit in Gaborone. 
She said that SADC Declaration on Gender and Development and its addendum in 1998 set a target of 30% women representation in politics and decision making by 2005, adding that some countries are doing well while others are still lagging behind. 
According to the report, Botswana scored 8% for women in parliament an increase by 0.5% from 7.9% in 2009. The country did well only in 2000 when they scored 18.2% but dropped drastically. 
Currently they are only five women parliamentarians in Botswana parliament with only one being Same Bathobakae in the opposition. Out of the five, four were elected during the general elections while one was nominated by President Ian Khama and endorsed by parliament. 
All the four women parliamentarians within the ruling party are members of cabinet with three holding full ministerial positions dropping the percentage from 18.8% in 2009 to 12.5% in 2014, while the highest scoring country is South Africa at 43% with DRC lagging behind at 10.7%. 
Kakukuru attributed the low scoring to the first post past electoral system which is used in Botswana reasoning that it makes difficult for women to penetrate the male dominated political system. 
Botswana is one of the countries that have not signed the SADC Gender and Development protocol with President Ian Khama quoted by the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer in 2012 citing the timeframes unrealistic, and some of the measures going to have serious resource implications that Botswana cannot guarantee.” – taken from an article written by Phillimon Mmeso for The Patriot. (Click Here For The Article) 

The above analysis speaks volumes on how representation of women in politics is quite atrocious, lightly speaking. We need to stop romanticizing women empowerment and start demanding actual change from our governments and from ourselves. As women, there is no need to see one another as competitors. Instead there is a need to find solidarity amongst each other, invest in ourselves and encourage each other. All this cannot happen if our concerns aren’t being represented by someone just like us in parliament. The above issues are only a fraction of the struggles that we as women face. It is up to us to fight for our liberation because it’s NOT going to get handed to us.