Gender Roles in Economics

Traditionally, Tswana women were largely in control of domestic labor and work within the domain of the household. The preparation of food and even gathering of food and water were seen to be the work of women. Gender roles were marked in the more centralized areas during the colonial and missionary contact period:

The more centralized and hierarchical a chiefdom, the less independent were households, the more gender roles were marked, and the greater was male control; conversely, the less the degree of centralization, the more autonomous were households, the less marked was the sexual division of labor, and the more attenuated was male authority. (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1992, p. 42)

In postcolonial and missionary times, division of labor among the Tswana has shifted. In the north in particular, the departure of Tswana men to the diamond- and coal-mining industries in the south has contributed to the rise of women as the primary heads of households (Peters, 1983). Almost 40% of men in Botswana between the ages of 14 and 50 are estimated to be absent and participating in national and even transnational migration for extended periods of time. The men return little in the way of remittances. As a result, many women have expanded the traditional craft of basketry as a means of achieving economic security. For this new craft, men are responsible for gathering the reeds, roots, and leaves in order to make baskets, though women are in charge of growing them and eventually dyeing, soaking, and weaving baskets for sale. As Suggs (1993) notes, among contemporary Tswana, most women are employed outside of the home in addition to their charge over domestic labor.

Historically, property was owned by village chiefs and headmen, and property ownership by women was rare. Exchanges of cattle, in the forms of bride payments (bogadi) represented exchanges of property and goods between men. In contemporary Tswana society, property and land may be owned jointly by men and women, although ownership is dependent upon marriage under customary or communal statutory law. In the latter, assets are kept separate but a woman cannot claim inheritance. At present, many are lobbying for more equitable structures regarding property and asset ownership (Molokomme, 1990).

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