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Gender and Energy Assessment in Botswana


Nozipho Ditlhale & Matthew Wright

Executive Summary

Since independence in 1966 Botswana has averaged among the highest rates of economic growth in the world, mainly as a result of diamond mining; while highly regarded economic have extended the benefits of rapid development throughout the population. There is near universal access to safe drinking water, and to health and education facilities. Despite the vulnerability to drought, rates of malnutrition have been successfully reduced. The current HIV/AIDS epidemic has led to a worsening of some social indicators, and will put considerable strain on the national resources during the coming years. However, this has not dented the confidence in the overall stewardship of the Botswana economy, as indicated by the high sovereign credit ratings that were awarded in early 2001 and have been subsequently maintained, which compare favourably internationally (Bank of Botswana, 2000). 

However, despite this generally impressive track record, serious challenges for development remain as indicated by continuing high rates of poverty, un- and under-employment. These are most pronounced in rural areas and female-headed households (FHHs). Rural development has long been seen as a priority, and the government has attempted to support economic empowerment of Botswana through schemes such as the Financial Assistance Policy (FAP) and assistance to Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs). In principle at least, such policies recognise the particular problems faced by women: in the small-scale category of FAP, for instance, women applicants qualified greater financial support; and in 1996 a national Policy on Women in Development was adopted. Internationally recognised measures, such as the UNDP’s Gender Empowerment and Gender-related Development Indices also indicate that economic development in Botswana has been of substantial benefit to women (UNDP, 2000, 2001, 2002).  

However, Botswana society is mainly patriarchal and this has contributed to women being left behind in terms of development when compared to their male counterparts. While the government is committed to the principle of tackling gender inequalities, in practice they still exist in key areas. Laws, derived mainly from the Roman Dutch legal system, can reduce women to the state of minors under their fathers’ or husbands’ care. The impact of this can be seen in property acquisition, capacity to raise finance to operate a business, ownership of assets, etc. It seems no coincidence that women are also most badly affected by poverty, although other factors also contribute to this situation. These inequalities trickle down to household operations and can impact negatively in such issues as modern energy acquisition and use. 

The low level of participation of women in the energy policy and planning for the long term works against them. It means that their energy needs do not reach the planning level when policy is being formulated and impacts on the projects and programmes that the government implements which are meant to benefit the poor, which are predominantly in FHHs. The top management at the Department of Energy (DoE; formerly Energy Affairs Division, EAD), the body that is responsible for energy policy formulation and implementation, are male. 

Study Objectives 

The purpose of the study is to investigate gender related factors that influence energy acquisition decisions for both households and businesses. Currently in the rural areas of Botswana where modern energy provision is lacking, there is a narrow gap in the proportion of poor male-headed households to female-headed households at 49% and 47% respectively. These figures may suggest that the ‘rural’ factor does not affect females most, and rather that a lack of income generating opportunities for all households is the major problem. To investigate the issue in more detail, the following principal hypothesis was assigned for investigation: 

Modern energy use is higher in households and communities where women are key decision makers than in those where they are not. 

In addition to investigating this hypothesis, some initial investigation was conducted into the use of modern energy in rural businesses, in particular whether modern energy use is higher in rural enterprises where women are key decision makers and the extent to which the provision of modern energy to rural areas will enhance the chances of women engaging in income generating activities. 

There is a fairly comprehensive set of relevant background data, although in some instances it is somewhat out of date, especially given the rapidity of economic and social development. The hypothesis and investigated research issues look in detail at the potential impact on women, and here gaps in the necessary data are apparent. Qualitatively, the disadvantaged position of women is clear. But relevant, quantitative, micro data appears to be generally lacking: 

·         Information is generally collected at the household level. While there is a presumption that household heads will be responsible for making key decisions, including the choice of energy option, this does not deal with questions of intra-household distribution.

·         Providing grid electricity may not be the most effective way for women especially in rural areas in the country to access it immediately and benefit from it. There is no sufficient data that indicates that women are engaging in or not engaging in income generating activities, and whether this is with or without the provision of modern energy. As a result it cannot be clearly seen from the literature that there is a connection between income earning and the provision of modern energy in rural areas.

·         The impact of the accelerated rural electrification programme on the lives of women in rural areas: Data on how much income is produced, whether it is enough to impact positively on women’s lives and those of their family members, especially their children needs to be obtained.  

Major Conclusions 

For the hypothesis to be supported there must be clear indications that when men have decision-making powers within the household they tend to exploit, to a greater extent than female decision makers, the potential for free labour from other household members in preference to the financial expense of acquiring and using modern energy sources. Examination of the data revealed the following: 

  1. Household income is the most important determinant of energy choice: those that chose modern energy were generally on higher cash incomes.

  2. There is some support for the hypothesis. In particular, it seems that there is a significantly greater tendency among FHHs to utilize modern energy once their much lower average income levels are taken into account. This is further supported by information on acquisition of traditional energy where FHHs are more likely to pay for fuelwood.

  3. There are several qualifications to this general conclusion. Unrecorded, non-cash sources of income may affect FHHs households most. The slightly smaller size of FHHs will, to the extent it reduces the household labour supply, encourage substitution of modern energy. More generally, the quality of the data may be questioned in some instances.

  4. Information concerning decision making delegated to women in male-headed households is ambiguous.

The preliminary investigation of the impact of gender on energy related decision in rural businesses strongly suggested that such an effect was unlikely. In particular it seemed at odds with basic considerations of rational behaviour, a conclusion that was supported by an initial data review.  

The major conclusion in the final research area is that women do participate in income generating activities if modern energy is provided in their area. This is evidenced by the number of women in Letlhakeng village who run or own businesses which make use of e.g. electricity, as compared to their male counterparts. However, it could not be simply concluded that such energy provision was by itself sufficient to significantly enhance income-generating opportunities.


  1. The following recommendations are made:  DOE does not seem to be aware that gender inequalities can be counter-productive in their goal to provide energy to all citizens. Energy provision impacts differently on men and women. Men and women have different gender roles in households and communities and as a result their needs are different and projects and programmes that are implemented must target these different needs. There is therefore, a need to examine the issue of gender and energy and to plan and implement projects and programmes accordingly to ensure that services reach those that they are intended to reach. 

  2. The government should consider providing households with incentives to encourage them to switch to modern and efficient forms of energy whether for the household or for income generating activities. This might prove to be effective in the context of on going efforts to identify ways to alleviate poverty in Botswana. FHHs are worst hit by poverty, so targeting them with development programmes can only lead to a better quality of life and sustainable development, especially in the rural areas.

  3. Poverty reduction is a central concern, as evidenced by the goals of Vision 2016 which are now formally incorporated into the development planning process. Despite recent budgetary pressures, the government remain well resourced and policies that are well-designed to target the poor, including those with an energy focus can be favourably received. Favourable conditions could be created for women in energy projects, provided this is backed with business skills training to ensure sustainability. Botswana has adequate organisations and NGOs that deal with the rural poor and such initiatives are not impossible if Energy Affairs Division coordinates projects and programmes with all its stakeholders as this will help reduce costs. In a case like this, networking would be crucial as some organisations are already doing work to help poor rural women, adding modern energy to the equation might just help reduce poverty.

However, the tentative nature of these recommendations should be stressed, as the research proved inconclusive in some important areas, given the data that was available for the study. This in turn underlines the need to improve data collection activities and undertake further research.

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