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Analytical summary - Gender and women's health

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Botswana is committed to the improvement of the socioeconomic conditions and the health status of men and women across the age spectrum. The country has acceded to the 1996 Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Gender equality has been addressed in a number of policy documents, including Vision 2016, National Population Policy, Revised National Policy of Education, National Policy on HIV and AIDS, and National Policy on Culture.

The National Policy on Culture 2001 has provided men and women with equal access to inheritance, ownership of property, leadership and decision-making. However, it will take some time to address existing gender inequalities that, for the most part, put women in a disadvantaged position relative to men. For instance, women’s political leadership falls far short of the Southern African Development Community's target of 30%, being only 7.9%.

The customary law that forms one leg of the country’s dual legal system allows continuing discrimination of women, particularly seen in marriage and family relations. For instance, the Marriage Act sets 21 years as the minimum age for marriage, which does not apply to customary and religious marriages. Botswana still has a lot to do to address the provisions of the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. For instance, the country is yet to:

  • establish an independent national human right institution
  • strengthen the national machinery for the advancement of women.

In the absence of the structures above, the ability of women to bring cases of discrimination to the courts will continue to be compromised by such factors as:

  • legal costs
  • traditional injustice systems
  • illiteracy
  • lack of information, which may be particularly felt by women in rural areas.

Although Botswana has given commendable attention to women with regard to health, education and employment since independence, the hardships of poverty and HIV/AIDS remain higher for women that men. More women than men are supporting single-parent families, which tend to have more dependants and to be poorer than two-parent families.

Women are subjected to violence in heterosexual relationships. Notwithstanding the increasing visibility of men in caregiving, particularly in child care, the bulk of the burden of care for the sick, children and older persons continues to be shouldered by women. Both the burden of care and poverty compromise women’s opportunity for education and employment.

On the other hand, men have for a long time been disadvantaged by the then maternal child health services that were biased toward women and children. Even though such services have since been reoriented to be more inclusive of men and adolescents under the label of sexual and reproductive health services, they still attract more women than men. Recognizing the exclusion of both adolescents and males in the old maternal child health services, the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy provides for gender equity through integrating gender analysis, equity and male participation in all sexual and reproductive health interventions.

A programme on male involvement has been initiated to address:

  • male involvement in sexual and reproductive health matters
  • men’s right to sexual and reproductive health information
  • the role of men in addressing issues of unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS
  • unwanted pregnancies
  • intimate partner and gender violence.

The objectives of the initiatives are being realized as the visibility of men has increased. However, little progress has been realized in the area of gender-based violence, in which both adults and young people are perpetrators, survivors and casualties.

The secrecy surrounding gender-based violence and the reluctance of the police to investigate such matters have been reported to contribute to the frustrations in addressing the problem.