Published on Let's Talk Development

In Botswana, an inclusive reform process is needed to advance women’s economic participation

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Portrait of mother and child. Botswana. © Curt Carnemark / World Bank Portrait of mother and child. Botswana. © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

The transformational Vision 2036 Achieving Prosperity for All defines Botswana’s aspirations to chart its way from a middle-income to a high-income economy. Promoting gender equality and granting men and women equal opportunities to participate in the economy are key components of the Government reset agenda for inclusive development.  But how can we best support Botswana as it strives to make gender equality a reality? This can be done by engaging closely with the government, private sector and civil society, and by contributing data, evidence and experiences from reform efforts in other countries.

On March 30, 2023, Women, Business and the Law, the World Bank’s Office in Botswana, and the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture hosted the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment workshop in Gaborone. The workshop launched the Women, Business and the Law 2023 report and convened  representatives of the government, private sector, and civil society to address critical gender gaps currently hindering Botswanan women’s economic empowerment.  At the workshop, Women, Business and the Law highlighted the country’s achievements on legal gender equality over the past 50 years and discussed remaining legal barriers to women’s employment and entrepreneurship.

Botswana is a country of about 2.6 million people where nearly half of the total labor force are women. Having one of the lowest rates of infant and child mortality, one of the highest life expectancies, the highest gross enrollment of women in tertiary education and the highest annual per capita growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa, Botswana has a unique opportunity to fully untap its human and development potential.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment can be a central driver for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. Yet, according to Women, Business and the Law data, women in Botswana only have  64 percent of the same rights afforded to men.

Botswana has come a long way in granting women’s equal rights, thanks to groundbreaking reforms.  For example, the 1970 Succession Act equalized the inheritance rights of male and female surviving spouses, and the 1992 amendments to the Employment Act lifted restrictions on women's ability to work at night and in mining — one of Botswana’s most lucrative industries (figure 1). In 2005, the landmark Abolition of Marital Power Act allowed women to choose where to live, be head of the household, get a job, sign a contract, register a business, and open a bank account without their husband’s consent. Further, this Act granted spouses equal rights over immovable property and equal rights to administer assets in marriage. In 2008, Botswana enacted the Domestic Violence Act, the first piece of legislation protecting women from domestic violence — the last reform captured by Women, Business and the Law for the country. As a result of these reforms, since the early 2000s, the average Women, Business and the Law score for Botswana has improved by more than 25 points, rising from 38.1 to 63.8. Despite this progress, Botswana’s average score is still lower than the average global score of 77.1 and the regional average score for Eastern and Southern Africa of 74.1.

Figure 1: 53 Years of Women’s Rights in Botswana

A line chart showing Figure 1. 53 Years Of Women?s Rights In Botswana
Source: Women, Business and the Law database.

The Government of Botswana reiterated its commitment to work toward achieving gender equality at the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment workshop.  Recent  milestones include the revision of the Land Policy that gave  women equal eligibility to a residential plot, on both state and tribal land. In 2021, Botswana adopted the Economic Inclusion Act which aims to promote effective participation of women in the country’s economic development. Other initiatives include the establishment of specialized courts by the Administration of Justice to expedite the hearing of gender-based violence against women cases.  Amendments to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act have introduced stronger protections in cases of rape. The reviewed Act empowers rape survivors to have more voice during evidence collection and at prosecution stage. Workshop participants from the private and nongovernmental sectors called for the ratification of ILO’s Convention C190 on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work as a further sign of commitment toward addressing violence against women.

Yet, the fight for gender equality is still ongoing, with the pace of legal reforms slowing down in recent years, constituting a potential impediment to economic growth. The latest edition of the Women, Business and the Law report shows that  Botswana can still improve in the areas of Mobility, Workplace, Pay, Parenthood, Entrepreneurship, and Assets. Lack of legal provisions mandating equal remuneration for men and women performing work of equal value, aligning maternity leave policies with international legal standards, and protecting women from harassment at work are important remaining gaps in the country’s legal framework . Surrounded by the economies that are in the top ten highest scoring economies on the continent — Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe — Botswana can leverage momentum for reform in the region and address remaining legal barriers to women’s full economic participation.

At the workshop, the Government, private sector, and civil society proposed a call for action to promote women’s economic empowerment. Key takeaways included:

  1. A stand-alone Ministry of Gender would institutionalize the gender approach, target resources, and signal the government commitment to gender equality .
  2. Advocacy and activism are critical enabling factors for change to happen.   Botswana’s vibrant civil society, which includes the prominent non-government organizations (NGOs) Emang Basadi, Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis, Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Botswana GBV Prevention and Support Centre, and Gender Links, must form an integral part of the change toward equality discourse.
  3. Botswana’s private sector must contribute opportunities and resources to support women’s economic empowerment, especially in the context of financial education .
  4. Laws protecting women’s rights must be accompanied by meaningful implementation.
  5. Changing gender norms hindering women’s empowerment is part of the necessary mindset change the government is advocating. 

A concerted whole-of-government approach, backed by civil society, private sector, and the international development community is needed to create an enabling environment for women to thrive in. Women, Business and the Law stands committed to produce data and knowledge in support of the Government of Botswana in this endeavor.  

The Women, Business and the Law team is grateful to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its generous support for a series of civil society and private sector engagement workshops across Sub-Saharan Africa. 


Alena Sakhonchik

Private Sector Specialist at Women, Business and the Law, World Bank Group

Marina Elefante

Private Sector Development Specialist at the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law

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