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Gender-Based Violence

There is a notable gap in official statistics on gender-based violence in Botswana. A National Relationship Survey in 2017 found that 37% of women had experienced GBV, including 28% in the 12 months prior [1]. However, data from the UNFPA in 2022 reveals a much higher figure of as many as 67% of women reported having experienced some form of gender violence in their lifetime, while 44% of men admitted to having perpetrated violence against women [2].

Survey data by Afrobarometer exploring perceptions and experiences of GBV found that 50% of respondents report that violence against women and girls was either 'very' or 'somewhat' common in their community [3].

Estimated % Change due to COVID-19:

No specific numbers but there have been reports of an increase in number, which would be in line with UNFPA projections.[3]

2020: It has been suggested that the effects of COVID-19 will cost the region of Sub-Saharan Africa between USD $37 billion and $79 billion in terms of output losses.[4]

Current Law and Policy:

Gender-based and domestic violence are still widespread in Botswana, despite efforts to prevent such occurrences. No legislative changes have been made since 2013, although the government has recently spoken about the need to change gender stereotypes and deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes, which contribute to the problem.  

In 2008, Botswana introduced the Domestic Violence Act.[5] The Act make a range of protective orders available to victims of domestic violence. These orders can be granted by magistrates and are enforced by the police. Any breach of these orders constitutes a criminal offence and arrest warrants can be issued if the victim is in imminent danger. However, no specific criminal offence of ‘domestic violence’ exists under the Act.

The general Penal Code Provisions concerning offences against the person and sexual assault continue to provide the basis for prosecution in domestic violence cases, despite the targeted legislation introduced in 2008. The Act also only protects women who are in domestic relationships (as defined under the Act) and fails to criminalise marital rape. 

In 2010, CEDAW called on Botswana to enact further legislation on domestic violence, covering marital rape, sexual harassment and all forms of sexual abuse. Such legislation should ensure that violence against women and girls constitutes a criminal offence, victims have access to immediate means of redress and protection and perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished. CEDAW also recommended the establishment of shelters and counselling services for domestic abuse victims, as well as public awareness-raising campaigns on that fact that all forms of violence against women constitute discrimination and, therefore, violate women’s rights. 

In 2013, the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review recommended that Botswana draft implementation instructions and provide police and the public with training on the Domestic Violence Act 2008. As a result, in 2013, Botswana introduced the Domestic Violence Act Regulations. However, the Regulations did not fill the substantive gaps left by the Act nor did they provide any further recourse for victims of domestic abuse, instead outlining procedural advice for officials. However, in this same year, 2013, the government did put in place a comprehensive public education and awareness programme to share information on the Domestic Violence Act 2008.

In 2016, Botswana launched its national transformative agenda, “Vision 2036: Achieving Prosperity for All”. The Vision was developed in line with the Sustainable Development Goal and specifically addressed gender equality. The 2015 National Policy on Gender and Development guided gender-specific initiatives and the National Gender Commission was established to ensure the effective implementation of the Policy. However, despite this Policy progress, no legislative changes were made to achieve these goals. 

In 2019, the Committee recommended that Botswana amend its Domestic Violence Act to conform with modern international standards and include all international instruments on the prevention of gender-based violence. Concern was also expressed over the current legislative framework and the fact that it does not specifically criminalise gender-based or domestic violence. In response, Botswana acknowledged the high prevalence of gender-based violence in both its national territory and in the region of Southern Africa more generally. [6]

According to the Republic of Botswana's 2022 Voluntary National Review report, the country has produced a handbook and training curriculum for police on responding to GBV, implemented GBV training of traditional leaders, police, social workers, and teachers, and developed service standards and protocols for the prevention and management of GBV for healthcare providers. In November 2020, the government launched 25 GBV courts to ensure trained legal counsel and judges to manage these cases and ensure timely justice for victim-survivors [7].

Although there has been an increase in the reporting of instances of domestic violence in the last 10 years, reporting and prosecution rates in remain low. Family and community pressure and expectations prevent women from seeking justice, especially in rural communities. Applications are often withdrawn following contact with family members, who are embarrassed that a relative has sought external assistance to deal with such a personal matter. However, in 2019, Botswana denied that there had been any such withdrawals recently. This deeply held belief that domestic violence is a private matter also permeates the way in which the justice sector and law enforcement personnel handle cases. It has been reported that women are encouraged by police officers to “forgive and forget” and reconcile with their partners. In rural areas, police might even assume the role of arbitrator and insist that women negotiate with the perpetrator, sometimes even involving the couple’s families in reconciliation attempts.  

Another major obstacle to eradicating domestic violence in Botswana is the operation of its dual legal system, which relies on both indigenous customary law and the country’s Constitution. Many of the cultural practices and harmful attitudes that have led to gender-based and/or domestic violence being tolerated in Botswana are reflected in customary law. Although the Constitution recognises men and women as equal, it also accommodates customary law and most people use this to conduct their marital and family affairs. In 2019, the government announced that it has been engaging with traditional leaders (‘dikgosi’) on mainstreaming gender equality into the customary justice system. As a result, some rural areas have established Gender Committees and developed action plans in their respective communities. However, it is a massive challenge to eliminate these gender stereotypes and negative cultural practices completely and there is still a long way to go. 

Women at Work

The latest Women, Business and the Law report found that Botswana has made 'significant strides' toward equal treatment of women, however the pace of legal reforms have slowed in recent years. The government has implemented policies and programmes aimed at promoting economic empowerment, for example the Women's Development Fund which provides financial assistance and training to women entrepreneurs, helping them establish and grow their businesses. In recent years, there has been a significant advancement in girls' enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education which has resulted in a growing pool of educated and skilled women entering the workforce.

Women's representation in politics is low at 11% in parliament and 18% in councils [8]. According to the World Bank 2022, women make up around 47% of the total labour force, indicating an increase from around 40% in 1990 [9]. However, the gender wage gap remains a concern and women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions in both the public and private sectors.

Frontline Services:


Further Reading

[1] CEDAW, “Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – Botswana”, (2010), Forty-Fifth Session of the Committee.

[2] UN OHCHR, “Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Discusses the Situation of Women’s Rights in Botswana”, (, 1 March 2019).

[3] International Commission of Jurists, “Women’s Access to Justice in Botswana: Identifying the Obstacles and Need for Change”, (2013), Report.

[4] P. Cailleba and R. Kumar, “When Customary Laws Face Civil Society Organisations: Gender Issues in Botswana”, (2011), Research Paper.

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