Difficult inroads for women in business

Women in field
Women in field

As women in Botswana have attempted to take the road less travelled, they have faced an uphill climb to assert themselves in agriculture, the corporate world and information technology. Mmegi Staff Writer, BABOKI KAYAWE traces the trail they have left

Women in Agriculture

At independence Botswana’s economy depended largely on agriculture, specifically beef production and women’s roles in the sector were very much pronounced. Recent studies show that while agriculture continues to be the country’s primary employer, women have struggled to keep their independence era dominance in terms of employment share. According to Statistics Botswana, agriculture accounted for 21.8 percent of the 874,297 jobs categorised as ‘gainful employment’, followed by public administration, wholesale and retail trade, real estate and construction.

“It is worth noting that females dominated in wholesale and trade, hotels and restaurants, finance, health, private households and local government while males dominated in agriculture, mining, electricity and water, construction, manufacturing, real estate and transport, and communications,” the data agency’s studies show.

In addition, female participation in agricultural initiatives rolled out by government as part of poverty eradication, is also low.  A survey conducted last year to measure accessibility and uptake of poverty eradication programmes in Moshupa sub-district reveals low uptake rates.

Very insignificant numbers of young women in the area have benefited from the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agricultural Development (ISPAAD) and the Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development (LIMID).

Of the 40 percent of women aged 20 to 29 in the sub-district who reported having heard of the ISPAAD programme, three percent applied and failed, and only 1.3 percent actually benefited. A whopping 56 percent, or nearly two out of three young women, said they had never heard about it.  As for LIMID, 39 percent had not heard about it, 47 percent had not applied, 13 percent had applied but were unsuccessful while just one percent benefited.  However, on a national level, some experts actually argue that women are doing well in agriculture.

Dr Seoleseng Tshwenyane, a lecturer at the Botswana College of Agriculture, says there has been a great improvement in the involvement of women in the sector.

“We now have women participating in agriculture as farmers, both arable and pastoral.  Even in the academia there is an increase in the number of women who are participating in the sector,” she says.

According to Tshwenyane, the incorrect perception that has prevailed for quite some time is that agriculture is only about farming. “There is more than that and this perception could be hindering women’s involvement in the sector.

“I would say there are women in agriculture and yes in academia we have women in senior lecturer and associate professors positions.  “There are also senior researchers in various departments and civil societies,” opines Tshwenyane.

She, however, concedes that there is still a big gap between women and men in terms of agri-business. However, with the help of government initiatives, some women are taking up horticulture, backyard tree nurseries and beekeeping.

“There is however still a need for women to take part in agriculture since it is a male-dominated field,” Tshwenyane says.


Women in Business

Women in business and trade in Botswana are generally concentrated in the informal sector. It is against this backdrop that Women In Business Association (WIBA), Business Botswana, believes that though there has been progress in this front, there is still an immense potential for development, particularly in the mainstream.

“It has been reported that women contribute 60 percent to the economy, which is evidence that they are progressing in business. Whilst this is the case, the large part of women’s contribution to the economy lies in the informal sector, which has an immense potential to be developed,” says Tshiamo Dambe-Molapisi, co-coordinator of the inaugural WIBA business awards.  The awards, to be held this Sunday, are meant to promote women’s participation in business and trade locally. Dambe-Molapisi says though Batswana women are found in large numbers in the informal sector, there are also large pockets in sectors such as health and beauty, tourism and textile.

“Women are doing excellently in many other businesses that contribute to the economy such as the service industry where they play a big role,” says Dambe-Molapisi.  She adds that while historically, entrepreneurship was the preserve of men, women have rewritten the rules. Though challenges of lack of formal business registration and bookkeeping remain, WIBA has noticed some progress in women-headed businesses.

“This education and information sharing through our various forums has raised professionalism, advocacy and teamwork. Although there is still room for improvement, our biggest hope comes from young women who have shown commitment to facing challenges head on,” she says.

On a national scale however, the trends are worrying.  According to a Grant Thornton International study, the percentage of business leadership roles held by women in Botswana fell sharply from 32 percent in 2014 to 16 percent this year.

The report also noted an astounding rise in the number of Botswana businesses reported to have no women in senior management, from 19 percent last year to 45 percent in 2015. The Africa average of this statistic stands at 23 percent.


Women in ICT

Information, Communications Technology (ICT) is a relatively young, but rapidly growing sector in Botswana, according to the Botswana Information Technology Society (BITS). 

Though BITS president, Gaongalelwe Mosweu, an ICT consultant, says that women’s representation in ICT has ‘improved greatly’ in the past two decades, she is quick to note that their representation is still lower than that of men.

“A quick look at the heads of the companies in these fields, and you will realise that globally there is a ratio of about five men to 1 woman. In Botswana the odds are far lower than this. Most IT managers in corporate companies are males and most ICT companies are headed by men, with only a few women in this group,” says Mosweu.

Mosweu believes the chief reasons for this inadequate representation are more on a personal level. She says women often lack the motivation to take up challenging positions in ICT.

“One of the reasons is that sometimes when a woman takes up such a position, she feels like she may be considered less feminine than her peers in lower positions.  “Another reason could be that some women may not be confident enough to believe and know that they can succeed in key ICT leadership positions,” she says.

She reminisces of a rather unpleasant situation she found herself in while job hunting. Mosweu and two male friends of hers were shortlisted for a job.

“At a particular stage of the interview, the CEO of this company was present.  He came to greet the three of us in the lobby and introduced himself. He spoke to the gentlemen, and then as somewhat an afterthought, he turned to me and asked, ‘Oh, are YOU also here for the interview?’

“I responded in the affirmative and studied his face as he half-mumbled a ‘good luck’.  I did not get the job, but both my friends did,” she recalls.

She says for a long time she could not help feeling that the reason she did not get the job was because of her gender.

At this year’s International Girls in ICT Day, an event focused on encouraging young women to develop their ICT skills, Botswana Fibre Networks (BOFINET) Communications, PR and Marketing Specialist, Kungo Mabogo revealed that only 30 percent of the seven million people working in the ICT sector worldwide are women. “They are under-represented at all levels in the ICT sector, especially in decision-making positions.

“One way to reverse this trend is to encourage young women to take up ICT-related careers.  We encourage girls to take the initiative and step into this ever-growing sector not only to develop their skills, but also to serve as major contributors to the development of our economy,” Mabogo says.

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