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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women discusses the situation of women's rights in Botswana

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
  against Women

1 March 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women today concluded its review of the fourth periodic report of Botswana on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Magang Ngaka Ngaka, Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs of Botswana, said that the key priorities in the advancement of women’s rights included combating HIV/AIDS, addressing gender-based violence, eliminating discrimination, and promoting women’s economic and political empowerment.  This would be achieved by implementing, inter alia, thenational transformative agenda Vision 2036: AchievingProsperityfor All,the National Policy on Gender and Development, and the National Strategy to end gender-based violence 2014-2020.  Botswana was engaging with traditional leaders (dikgosi) on mainstreaming gender into the customary justice system, and some had already established Gender Committees and developed action plans in their respective communities.  The elimination ofrole stereotypes and negative cultural practices was hampered by the fact that the Constitution recognized the equality of men and women before the law and also accommodated customary law, thus establishing adual legal system.  Most Batswana used customary law to conduct their marriage and family affairs, which was why the efforts to amend the constitutional and legal framework had not been successful so far.  The Minister stressed the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, and the adoption of theWomen’s Economic Empowerment Programme and the Ten-Year Affirmative Action for remote areas.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts welcomed Botswana’s vision and the strong political commitment, and its frank recognition of challenges and problems, which was the first step towards solving them.  Experts discussed at length the dual legal system in the country, expressing concern that some customary laws discriminated against women and replicated patriarchal power structures, and urging Botswana to fully incorporate the Convention in its legal order, as one possible answer.  Another area of interest was the action to eliminate strong cultural norms and behaviours that were serious obstacles for women in attaining their human rights, with Experts encouraging Botswana to adopt quotas and other temporary special measures to promote women’s participation and representation in political life, as well as in educational and judicial spheres.  Gender-based violence remained one of the most prevalent human rights violations in Botswana, they said, with 67 per cent of women having experienced one or more of its forms.  Botswana should amend its Domestic Violence Act to ensure that it conformed with modern international standards and that it included all international instruments on the prevention of gender-based violence.  Finally, they inquired about steps taken to curb excessive maternal mortality rates and high rates of early pregnancy, as well as to tackle gender-based discrimination in land allocation.

Mr. Ngaka Ngaka thanked the Committee in his concluding remarks.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, congratulated Botswana on the gains made and encouraged it to address the Committee’s recommendations.

The delegation of Botswana consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Ministry of Basic Education, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation, and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of Botswana to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Botswana at the end of its seventy-second session on 8 March.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 8 March at 4 p.m. to officially close its seventy-second session.

Report

The Committee has before it the fourth periodic report of Botswana (CEDAW/C/BWA/4).

Presentation of the Report

Magang Ngaka Ngaka, Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs of Botswana, began his address by expressing appreciation of the critical role of civil society organizations and the United Nations family in the preparation of the report, and said that combating HIV/AIDS, addressing gender-based violence, eliminating discrimination, improving the situation of persons with disabilities, and promoting women’s economic empowerment were among the key priorities the advancement of women’s rights in Botswana.  In 2016, Botswana had launched her national transformative agenda, Vision 2036: Achieving Prosperity for All.  The Vision was fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, and under its Pillar 2, it specifically addressed gender equality and aspired for equal contribution of women and men in socio-economic, cultural and political development of Botswana.  The National Policy on Gender and Development 2015 guided and informed the development and implementation of gender-sensitive and responsive initiatives; it had adopted gender mainstreaming as a core strategy for sustainable development, and had established the National Gender Commission to ensure the effective implementation of the policy.  Gender-based violence remained an important challenge, said the Minister, and that was why Botswana had put in place the multi-pronged and multi-sectorial National Strategy 2014-2020 and had adopted a number of laws, including the Domestic Violence Act Regulations of 2013 and the Married Persons Property Act of 2014. 

Since 2012, the Government was engaging with traditional leaders (dikgosi) on mainstreaming gender into the customary justice system.  Despite the efforts, there were still challenges towards the absolute elimination of role stereotypes and negative cultural practices, said Mr. Ngaka Ngaka.  While the Constitution recognized the equality of men and women before the law, it also accommodated customary law, which most Batswana used to conduct their marriage and family affairs.  That was why Botswana had not yet been able to amend the Constitution accordingly and review a number of laws including the Abolition of Marital Power Act and the Deeds Registry Act.  In order to raise public awareness on the issue, the Government was engaging with traditional leaders on the need to align customary laws and practices with acceptable provisions of the Convention.  Owing to those efforts, some had established Gender Committees and developed action plans in their respective communities.  Botswana had initiated the revision of the Marriage Act to include religious marriages as the third type of marriage under the current marital regime, which was expected to also regulate all marriages and prevent abuses, including child marriages.

The Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme had been initiated in 1998 and had supported 3,725 women to start income generation activities.  The Poverty Eradication Programme, funded to the tune of $100 million since its inception in 2009, had employed 28,625 people to date, with women representing 80 of the beneficiaries.  The Ten-Year Affirmative Action had $290 million budget to provide equal opportunities for remote areas and minimizedevelopment gaps between them and the rest of the country.  In order to promote women’s participation in trade, Botswana and the International Trade Centre had signed the Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment in October 2018.  The budget for the national gender machinery had been increased from $1.8 to 4.8 million in 2017/2018 financial year to enable the effective implementation of the National Gender Programme.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Opening the interactive dialogue with the delegation of Botswana, a Committee Expert welcomed the vision and the strong political commitment of the Government, as well as its frank recognition of challenges and problems, which was the first step towards solving them.

Botswana had a dual legal system in which customary law applied alongside common law, the Expert continued, noting that some customary laws discriminated against women, while the fact that they were mostly applied in rural areas increased vulnerabilities of rural women.  The Expert asked the delegation about the long-term solution and the precedence of the constitutional law over customary law, and stressed that incorporation of the Convention could be one possible answer, but in Botswana the process was still at drafting stages. 

What tangible measures were being taken to make the Convention known among the population, implement the Committee’s recommendations, and inscribe in law the definition of discrimination against women in line with article 1 of the Convention?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation that the customary law had existed for a long time and that the dual legal system, as in many other countries, was a legacy of colonialization.  Customary law was essential for marriage and family issues; changes were taking place but were taking time.  Aware that it was a slow process, Botswana was engaging with traditional leaders and was making considerable progress there. 

While the Constitution provided for a very long list of prohibited grounds of discrimination and contained a number of provisions that guarantee equality, there was also a very long list of areas with exceptions.  The definition of discrimination against women and its inclusion in the Constitution posed difficulties, said the delegation, explaining that the consultations on constitutional amendments had been going on for almost a decade.  Botswana was not proud of the marriage and land laws for example, that were not women-friendly, said the delegation, acknowledging the need to speed up the reform process.  Public awareness programmes aimed to prepare the ground and speed up the reform process that would bring the definition in line with the Convention and other international treaties the country was a party to.

The Government relied on events such as Women's Day and workshops organized in rural areas in particular to raise awareness about the Convention.  Eight such workshops had been organized and represented an excellent platform to promote gender equality.  The Convention and its Optional Protocol had been widely disseminated and translated into several local languages to make them more accessible to the entire population.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Experts asked whether Botswana intended to adopt gender based budgeting, whether the national machinery for the advancement of women was sufficiently reaching the remote and rural areas, and whether steps were being taken to strengthen the position of the machinery in order for it to have a stronger influence.  Had Botswana taken any measures to establish a national human rights institution in the near future?

Experts acknowledged Botswana’s use of temporary special measures to advance women’s economic empowerment and provide support to most vulnerable women.  They urged the county to adopt such measures to also promote women’s representation and participation in public and political life, which remained an area of concern considering that, despite all the efforts, women still represented only ten per cent of Members of Parliament.  What specific measures, including the use of the quotas, would be adopted to strengthen women’s political participation at the next elections at the end of 2019?

Responses by the Delegation

Strengthening themachinery for the advancement of women and gender equality was a priority for the Government of Botswana, the delegation responded.  The National Gender Commission had been set up, giving women’s issues greater visibility, and its capacity had recently been increased by the addition of new staff.  The setting up of a national human rights institution had been discussed at a symposium in November 2018, and the issue would be further addressed at Parliament’s July session.

A number of temporary special measures had been put in place, particularly to promote the economic empowerment of women, but challenges remained.  While neighbouring countries such and Namibia and South Africa had been successful in using quotas to advance political participation of women, in Botswana there had been a public outcry on a proposal to follow suit.  With the population of only two million, Parliament was very small and the competition to enter was very strong.  Political parties had not yet accepted the notion of quotas for women representatives, and the issue was advancing very slowly.  Giving women confidence could make a difference, making them understand that they had rights and a change would happen only if they demanded those rights.  At the moment, the delegation said, the soil was not fertile and it was up to women to mobilize.

Questions by the Committee Experts
Committee Experts commended Botswana’s efforts to strengthen its legal, institutional, and policy framework to prevent and end gender-based violence, but noted with concern that 67 per cent of women experienced various forms of gender-based violence in their lifetime.  Gender-based violence was still one of the most prevalent human rights violations in Botswana, and the Committee was very concerned about the increase in reported acts of violence against women and girls, and especially sexual violence against children. 

Botswana should amend its Domestic Violence Act to ensure that it conformed to modern international standards and included all international instruments on the prevention of gender-based violence, Experts said and asked about availability and funding for shelters and services for victims of gender-based violence.

Botswana had strong patriarchal roots and strong cultural norms and behaviour were serious obstacles for women in attaining their human rights.  How were those social realities explained and what was being done to change them?  What was the impact of the National Gender Policy on the cultural norms and behaviour on individual levels?

The delegation was asked to outline steps taken to address child marriages, explain victims’ identification and protection under the current anti-trafficking legislation, and inform on programmes in place to protect women in prostitution and assist their exit.  The Experts recommended that Botswana should integrate in its Anti-Trafficking Action Plan the best practices of the neighbouring countries and recommendations of the relevant international institutions.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that over the past 14 years there had been changes and progress in cultural and societal norms and attitudes, citing as an example the fact that more than 30 women served as traditional leaders.  With their leadership and the leadership of the Chairperson of the National Gender Commission, who was a fan of the Convention, more progress would certainly be achieved.  One of the concrete outcomes of the national gender policy was the setting up of gender committees in ten areas, which would assist with its implementation and contribute to the desired changes in norms and behaviours.

Botswana was very concerned by the high prevalence of gender-based violence not only in the country, but the region of Southern Africa as well.  The Southern African Development Community was in fact considering the development of a regional strategy to address the issue.  The Penal Code of Botswana prohibited violence but did not specifically mention gender-based violence as a criminal offence.  That was why the Gender-Based Violence Act had been passed defined gender-based violence and defined new offences such as femicide.  This ensure that victims of gender-based violence had a recourse and a legal remedy.  In the last 24 months, a total of 274 cases had been reported, and despite the efforts by the authorities, prosecution rates remained very low.  There were two shelters for victims, set up by civil society organizations and financed by the Government.

The Anti-Trafficking Action Plan, which also included training of judges, was being amended, and would include the Committee’s suggestions.  Botswana had set up a fund for victims of trafficking, while shelters currently provided services to 18 victims, including health care and education for those of school age.

Prostitution existed, the delegation said, and the State was not turning a blind eye to it.  There were non-governmental organizations which worked with sex workers, while a study was being conducted in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund with the purpose of ending sexual exploitation of young children that included a hotline.   Public awareness programmes were in place which targeted parents with the message that poverty was not a justification for selling children of allowing their sexual exploitation.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts noted that the political representation of women was low and asked about measures taken to improve the number of women in Parliament and the regional bodies, as well as in higher ranking positions in general, including in the judiciary and the foreign service.  Were there any plans to change the electoral system in order to tackle those issues, as well?  Was there a political will to include women more?

The delegation was asked about the number of children born out of wedlock and whether they would be registered automatically and become citizens of Botswana.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that politics was about contestation and that women were not raised and trained to participate in such field.  However, women were very apt at community mobilization and attracting votes, and were now being advised to mobilise votes for women candidates instead of men. With the elections coming, there was hope that the situation would change.  Because women often had adequate professional education, they were better represented in senior positions in public service then in politics.

More than 80 per cent of children were born out of wedlock, said the delegation, since most people got married once they had a child.  Traditionally, the children belonged to the mother’s tribe and the fathers were seen as “uncles”.  Such children were automatically registered as citizens.  The delegation stressed that the best interest of the child was always taken into account both for children born in and out of wedlock.

Questions by the Committee Experts

As far as education was concerned, Committee Experts asked about the plans to introduce anti-bullying policy on a national level, and the number of prosecutions for sexual harassment in education.  They also raised the issue of readmission of girls who wished to return to school, the return of pregnant girls to all schools rather than just vocational school, and the possibilities of education in mother languages.  The delegation was asked to explain the efforts to put in place inclusive education for children with disabilities, and also to provide data on persons with disabilities who completed higher education and were employed in the public service.

Could the State party explain the measures directed to provide equal access to land to women and to tackle gender-based discrimination in land allocation?  The Experts inquired about working women’s access to childcare and breast feeding facilities, in line with the International Labour Organization Convention N°156, and the situation of women working in private and informal sectors.

Experts were very concerned about the high maternal mortality rates and asked the delegation to outline measures taken to raise awareness of the importance of midwives and training of medical personnel in general.  They also asked whether marital rape was recognized as a ground for legal abortion, and whether the women seeking this procedure remained anonymous.  Given the high rate of early pregnancy, was there an age limit in access to contraceptives and was it provided for free?  The Experts reminded that 136 women died every year of cervical cancer and asked how awareness rising on screening was being improved.

Replies by the Delegation

Botswana was regularly reassessing its educational policy, the delegation said, and a revision process was currently ongoing, in consultation with relevant United Nations bodies.  Early childhood education was now mandatory and primary school attendance was constantly increasing.  Teaching in mother languages was available.  Bullying was being addressed with the assistance of both children and their parents and there were public campaigns on the issue.  There was a hotline to report cases of bullying, set up under the programme conducted with the aid of the United Nations Children’s Fund.  In remote areas, children were being accompanied to school to minimize their exposure to violence.  A study on violence against children had been carried out and preliminary results were pending approval.

Early pregnancy was one of the main factors leading to girl’s school drop-out.  Pregnant girls were allowed to return to school six month after the birth of the child; this period of time allowed them to provide initial care to their infants.  There were active awareness raising campaigns to promote the school reinsertion of girls following a pregnancy.  Corporal punishment was prevalent in Africa, said the delegation, adding that, followingconsultations, the Government, the unions, and the teachers agreed that this practice must be eliminated.

When it came to education of children with disabilities, assessments to identify the problems were being done with assistance of relevant institutions and there were gadgets used to help such children in their education.  Botswana was trying best to embrace disabilities, however, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had not yet been ratified.

It was true that the Employment Act 2012 was silent on sexual harassment in the private sector, and there was a proposal for a revision of the labour laws to rectify that.  In the meantime, the National Code of Good Practice included sexual harassment, while employees had a chance bring cases of sexual harassment to the attention of labour inspectors during their visits to the workplace.  Botswana was not a signatory to the International Labour Organization Convention N°156 or the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention.  In 2012, the delegation continued, 96 persons with disabilities had been employed in the public sector and more than 300 in the private sector.

Botswana agreed that the current maternal mortality was unacceptable and it was taking measures to reduce the rates, including care training to improve the skills of nurses and doctors at the national and district levels and also to improve adherence to the standards of care. 

Illegal abortion largely contributed to the high number of maternal mortality rates, which was why family planning was another strong component when it came to tackling this issue.  Efforts were being made to decriminalize abortion.  Legal abortion was provided free of charge, while emergency contraception was available on demand and its provision was coupled with information on the importance of regular contraception.  There was no age limit in access to contraceptives, including the morning after pill.  The promotion of the importance of cervical cancer and HIV screenings were organized in both modern and traditional media, as well as in the workshops with religious leaders.

The delegation said that pension system did not cover the private sector nor informal economy; pension contributions there were done on a voluntary basis.  Land database was being improved and would lead to the improvement of women access to land under the work and supervision of the Land Tribunal.
  
Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts congratulated Botswana on the implementation of programs like the Poverty Reduction Programme and enhancement of land ownership, and took positive note of the fact that 90 per cent of the beneficiaries of the initiatives in trade and finance to support access to short-term loans and credit were women.  Despite efforts, women continued to make up a very large proportion of the nation’s poor, while for rural women, access to resources continued to represent an important challenge.

Experts remarked on very low representation of rural women in politics and in decision-making and asked about measures to disseminate knowledge on laws and policies on women’s rights, one of the major challenges to poverty elimination efforts.  If the right to own land by women was violated, were there places to address and forward their complaints and how many such cases had been reported? 

The experts further asked regarding programs to respect the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, and the impact of disasters and climate change on women and whether national plans dealing with these issues had adopted a gender perspective. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation addressed the questions by speaking about housing schemes for people with low or no income.  Many destitute families headed by women had access to these schemes.  There was also self-help housing with no or low interest, where women were big beneficiaries.  The delegates regretted having no information about the obstacles women faced in the field of sports.

In Botswana, communities could be mobilized for dissemination of information.  There were community development and social welfare offices in villages, who would inform women about options available to them and about various packages that could be availed.  In addition, the officials visited communities to assess their needs, and there were ‘market days’ where women could showcase and sell products, and network with their counterparts in the sphere of trade and facilitate their access to the market. 

Families in migrant centres referred to in the question were asylum seekers whose applications had been unsuccessful.  They could not be returned to their countries of origin and no other country had expressed interest to accept them.  The Government made a special dispensation to relocate them from the centre to a camp where there were provisions for schools for the children. 

Programmes such as Legal Aid Botswana sought to provide support to indigenous persons, though this was not exclusively for women.  58 per cent of legal aid applications were by women, and places where there were no offices, there would be mobile centres for legal assistance.  There were affirmative actions, such as mobile education, among others, for indigenous people living in remote parts of Botswana.

On the violations of land rights of women, the delegation said there were decentralized structures for land allocation and in cases of dissatisfaction and cases could lead up to the Land Tribunal.  The delegation emphasized that in Botswana, very little land was private and over 70 per cent was tribal.  There were land councils composed of different representatives, under the control of the Ministry of Land, Water and Sanitation.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the final round of questions, the Experts referred to the dual legal system and the customary law, and remarked that the traditional leaders were encouraged to implement provisions deemed ‘acceptable’ by them.  They reminded that provisions of the Convention could not be selectively applied and asked why Botswana was not party to the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women and when the country proposed to become one. 

Could the cases be mandatorily transferred to civil courts when there were complaints by women of violation of their rights in customary courts?  How accessible was women’s access to legal aid service and the operation of mobile courts?  Lastly, Experts asked about instances of withdrawal of domestic violence cases by women and requested explanations for this from societal point of view which was in turn linked to the availability of legal aid and protection.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation remarked that there was no reason for the Government to not sign the Maputo Protocol, and regretted that Botswana was slow in this regard, especially since its provisions were well aligned with principles of gender equality and the commitments the Convention.

No law at present explicitly dealt with martial rape, however, a rapist was still considered as one under the criminal laws.  The rape of minors and rape in general was considered a criminal offense.  The Domestic Violence Act could be amended to include marital rape.  Marriage Act was being amended to protect the rights of the children.  The instructions to amend the Adoption Act of 1952 were being considered. 

When it came to mandatory transfer of cases from customary courts in instances where there were complaints of discrimination against women, the delegation said that there would be a need to determine if there were cases of discrimination, since the referrals should be an exception not the rule.  However, there was no reason why such discrimination should not be treated as a matter for referral away from customary courts.

Legal Aid Botswana was a well-resourced initiative and reached many parts of the country, including far into the remote areas in the far-west of the country and the Government was confident that recently there had been no withdrawals of cases of domestic violence.

Concluding Remarks

In his concluding remarks, Magang Ngaka Ngaka, Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs of Botswana, thanked the Committee.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, congratulated Botswana on the gains made and encouraged it to address the Committee’s recommendations.

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