Relative Status of Men and Women

As noted above, the relative status of men and women among the Tswana is tied, in part, to their reproductive status. In addition, ownership of property, cattle, and, more recently, completion of education and high occupational status (mainly for men) contribute to the more informal demarcation of status among the Tswana. Within the domestic sphere, women maintain a large degree of autonomy and decision-making power. Even in more rural areas, women influence decisions with respect to subsistence and household maintenance. For example, decisions about sending children to various family members are largely the domain of older women.

Formal education is free (albeit school fees and uniforms can be costly) and both girls and boys participate. Yet, as noted, participation by girls drops off significantly after primary school. In addition to passing educational levels, in order to qualify for university education, individuals, both men and women, used to have to participate in a form of government service entitled Tirelo Sechaba, "work for the nation." This program was aimed at getting youth to participate and give back to communities, other than their own natal villages, but has been recently disbanded by the government in Botswana as it was considered too expensive to maintain. However, it is not uncommon for older Tswana people to comment on this program and suggest that it allowed young people too much freedom and autonomy, and to speculate that it actually caused increases in the pregnancy rates.

Both men and women are accorded deferential status with age as well as with child-bearing. While it is difficult to discern power over sexual decision-making, many women in contemporary society reiterate the need actually to have a child in order to gain status in society.

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