BOWICO emerges in the built world

Botswana Women in Construction
Botswana Women in Construction

Tell us about Botswana Women in Construction Organisation (BOWICO). When was it incepted and what is its mandate? The organisation was officially registered in June 2019 and our mandate is to empower practising, professional, and prospective women in the construction industry.

BOWICO ensures their successful participation across all platforms within the built environment.

What are some of the challenges that women in construction face daily? The construction sector offers unique challenges because it has always been a male-dominated industry and the number of women is always limited at all levels. This in itself creates compounded barriers for even the most qualified and assertive of women in the industry. Women face unprecedented levels of both verbal and sexual harassment because their counterparts may not necessarily deem them as equals who deserve respect and workplace comradery. BOWICO strives to educate and facilitate all facets of safe workplace environments free from such harassment. We are stern advocates for clear channels of communication that permit all employees to report all inappropriate behaviour, for policy enactments in companies and for training workshops to curb such harassment. Other practical workplace requisites such as physical strength requirements, shared portable toilets, unfit safety equipment and personal protective equipment are some of the issues that we are working to change. We advise women to be vocal and unyielding when engaging management about all these workplace issues.

Since the inception of the organisation, has BOWICO addressed those challenges and what changes do you have in place to do so? We held inter-department interactions and policy meetings with the Department of Gender Affairs in late 2020 to discuss policy issues facing women in the construction industry. We also have a close working relationship with UN Women and EU Delegation to tackle various concerns that women face in the workplace. We have some workshops and organisational training planned for later in the year where we will engage both the public and private sector about issues sensitive to women in the construction workplace.

Changing policies in the workplace is an element that we are continuously working to impact.

Currently, what is the status of women in construction in Botswana and going forward what do you think needs to be done to empower them? According to Statistics Botswana data from 2018, the ratio of men to women in the construction sector was 4:1 with five percent of women represented in the blue-collar workforce and 20% in the corporate/consultant workforce. This tells us that we have a long way to go as a country. As part and parcel of our Strategy 2023 Project, we have planned various community outreach projects, mentorship and training engagements, and strategic partnerships that will see the improved inclusivity and engagement of women in the construction sector. We also aim to target youth from a young age as part of career guidance models that sensitise the girl-child to opportunities in the built environment.

What can you say about the contribution of women in the economy both formal and informal sectors? What more has to be done? Women have a long history of being undervalued in the workplace, and it is no different in the built environment. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the informal sector accounts for 86% of men and 92% of women in employment. In Botswana, the informal sector employs as many as 191,000 people. In 2010, the government of Botswana identified the informal sector as one of the crucial sectors that provide self-employment and could assist in eradicating poverty and achieving full employment. There has been significant growth in the informal sector over the years. This was shown by the two national surveys on the informal sector in 1999 and 2007. The national surveys show that there was a 72.3% increase in the number of informal businesses, from 23,454 businesses in 1999 to 40,421 businesses in 2007 (Central Statistics Office, 2007).

Do you think the country’s laws and policies are conducive for women in business, particularly in construction, to succeed? Botswana has made gradual strides in advocating for women in business. The abolition of the Marital Power Act of 2004, Articles 4, 5 and 11 and the Companies Act of 2004 have permitted women an opportunity for success in the world of business.

Botswana government has also relentlessly been committed to eliminating gaps in gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. We have 'The National Vision 2036: Pillar 2 on Human and Social Development' that identifies gender equality as central to socio-economic, political and cultural development. There is also the adoption of the National Policy on Gender and Development in 2015, from which the National Gender Commission was established in September 2016 to monitor the implementation of the policy. From this we witnessed gender being an issue prominent in the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs.

We also saw the inception of the Women’s Business Directory to facilitate access for women entrepreneurs to available markets. Though the government has made strides to empower women through policy, there are usually shortfalls in the implementation of these policies which leaves women-led organisations in the same place. A lot of work still needs to be done to implement and facilitate women-owned entities.

What plans do you have to help women in business penetrate the market? Our networking sessions and workshops, together with our community outreach projects aimed at bringing women closer to the market. We are currently developing a Mentorship Programme with a focus on Technical and Vocational Training in collaboration with Young Minds Africa, the Construction Industry Trust Fund, the Human Resource Development Council, and is supported by the German Agency for International Cooperation or GIZ.

The programme aims at closing the gap between academic technical training readiness for the workplace. We are also planning WIBE Conference, a women in business education forum, billed for late August this year will engage regional professionals and speakers and link local businesswomen to regional, as well as international business opportunities, and essentially focus on enabling women enterprises for more growth. We are always eager to learn more about our various professions across the built environment and engage each other both locally and regionally.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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