Forgotten your password? 

22 September 2019
RUC2014 Blog 13: Changing gender contracts in self-help housing construction in Botswana: The case of Lobatse. Print
Friday, 27 February 2015 10:52

How can research contribute to unlocking the potential of girls and women in Lobatse, Botswana? This article, first published by University of Botswana and produced by Mhitshane Reetsang as part of a Research Uptake Communications [RUC2014] coaching programme, tells the story of how the interpretation of policy be implementers with discriminatory gender norms can undo well-meaning policy. It also suggests where change needs to happen for roleplayers to unlearn and address skewed gender decision-making.

This blog, from the University of Botswana, is the thirteenth in this blog series. More information about the RUC 2014 campaign can be found here.

The information featured in this blog is drawn from published, peer-reviewed development research that was strategically selected by University of Botswana leadership to align with DFID’s mission of ‘contributing to unlocking the potential of girls and women in Sub-Saharan Africa'.

While social, economic, political and cultural changes experienced in Botswana have resulted in the empowerment of women and shifts in their societal position, role and status, new forms and sources of female subordination and male dominance have emerged. These need to be unearthed and placed on the political agenda for eliminating gender discrimination reducing poverty in Botswana.


Testing gender contracts in self-help housing construction

Policies in Botwsana are gender neutral and have the intention to empower and support both males and females equitably. This policy intention is not always achieved, not because the policy is poorly thought-out, but because the implementers most often than not lose out on the bigger picture and implement a parallel regulation to the detriment of policy.

A University of Botswana academic and researcher at the Department of Architecture & Planning, Prof Faustin Kalabamu observed this in one of his studies that that tested gender contracts in self-help housing construction in Lobatse, a town in South-Eastern Botswana, 70 kilometres south of the capital Gaborone, situated in a valley running north towards Gaborone.

The purpose of the study was to identify gender contracts in self-help housing construction. Taking Lobatse as a case study, the study identified gender contracts formed as a result of male dominance of construction activities, which were traditionally undertaken by women in Botswana. The study is premised on male domination of females as a result of associating female and male tasks with nature and the physiology. Most often decisions made based on male and female physiology subordinates women and gives control to males. The traditional patriarchal system has been extensively weakened in Botswana with household headship no longer the prerogative for men. Be that as it may, women continue to be underrepresented in policy and decision-making structures.


Good policy, detrimental practice

The study was conducted in Lobatse through two field surveys in May–June, 1999 and October 1999 on the Self-help Housing programme that was adopted as part of Botswana government housing policy in 1975, with the launching of Self-help Housing Agency (SHHA) in four towns in the country, then being Gaborone, Francistown, Selebi-Phikwe and Lobatse. To qualify for a self-help housing plot, the applicant had to be a citizen of Botswana and at least 18 years old. The applicant had to have resided in the township for at least 6 months and did not already own any plot or house in the township. The applicant had to earn an income of P800 and P7000 per annum.

Most female applicants, with no formal employment and regular income, failed to qualify for allocation of plots. They had to give the rights of the plots to their spouses. While the policy is purported to be gender neutral, the survey findings indicated that women were at a disadvantage. The males’ advantage over females included dominating construction work, which, in Botswana, was traditionally done by women. This gave males access to land, building skills and housing finance and rendered women ineligible for land rights.

As a result of men having new dominance of the construction industry, and, as a result, acquiring land to which women didn’t have rights, local women had to devise strategies to negotiate new gender contracts with their spouses. Amongst many complex issue this included ensuring that male partners spent their resources on housing, and trying to avoid confrontation over money with their husbands.

What was clearly apparent here was that while policies, such as the SHAA are gender neutral on paper, one has to pay attention whether they remain equitable in practice. The case of self-help housing initiatives in Lobatse did not empower low- income urban residents, mostly women. Instead, they ended up compromising the position of women and condemning them to poverty.


Steps towards change at many levels.

Policymakers:The use of research is instrumental for policymakers. If policymakers understand the reality of the gender dynamic, the policymakers will be able to structure policy so that it can actually benefit eligible candidates, irrespective of gender. Policy should include variables that are sensitive to the needs of men and women. 

Policy implementers. the research use is capacity building. Implementers or officers assisting in policy implementation need to unlearn their socialization and understand policy and its goal if research is to be used for capacity building.

Women:The results of this research are just a concept for women in Lobatse as disadvantaged stakeholders. In this case the land rights they lost out on due to engendered circumstances are not transferrable. Women need to be educated about what this research has revealed, and as a result need to assert themselves, with the help of supportive policies, to claim their position as people and not ‘spouses to a male’. This will allow the women to question the policy implementers’ decisions where masculinity infiltrates their rights. 


Find the original research article here: Changing gender contracts in self-help housing construction in Botswana: the case of Lobatse.


The previous blog in the series can be found here and the next blog of the series is here

Professor Faustin Kalabamu

Department of Architecture & Planning, Faculty of Engineering & Technology
University of Botswana

Mhitshane Reetsang
Director, Public Affairs
University of Botswana