Botswana - An Overview of Women's Work, Minimum Wages and Employment

An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Botswana. Minimum wage, wages, labour employment, unemployment, women employment, working conditions, Labour market structure, Legislation, Labour relations, Literacy, Literacy and skill levels of female labour, etc...

Decisions for Life MDG3 Project Country Report No. 5

University of Amsterdam /Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
Maarten van Klaveren, Kea Tijdens, Melanie Hughie-Williams, Nuria Ramos Martin
Amsterdam, Netherlands, December 2009


This report provides information on Botswana on behalf of the implementation of the DECISIONS FOR LIFE project in that country. The DECISIONS FOR LIFE project aims to raise awareness amongst young female workers about their employment opportunities and career possibilities, family building and the work-family balance. This report is part of the Inventories, to be made by the University of Amsterdam, for all 14 countries involved. It focuses on a gender analysis of work and employment.

History (2.1.1). Shortly after impoverished Botswana gained independence in 1966, the discovery of rich deposits of diamonds transformed its prospects radically. A market economy combined with state investment in infrastructure, health and education led between 1966-2000 to an average per capita GDP growth of nearly 7%, followed by fluctuating growth. Yet, income inequality is high and rising.

Governance (2.1.2). Botswana has been praised as a rather unique example of an enduring multi-party democracy with a record of sound economic management. It has voluntarily abandoned foreign aid. The representation of women in politics is remarkably weak, with after the 2009 general elections only four women (6.5%) in parliament. Violence against women seems widespread.

Prospects (2.1.3). Botswana may be able counteract effects of the current economic and financial crisis to some extent through its cautious financial policies and low external debt, but the worldwide slump in the demand for diamonds may have serious consequences.

Communication (2.2). Over four of each five inhabitants are cell phone users. Internet coverage is still low, with in 2007 about 5% of the population as users.TV and radio have considerable coverage.

The sectoral labour market structure (2.3). In 2005-06, 25% of all 257,000 employed women worked in agriculture, against 64% in services, broadly defined. About 39% worked in the informal sector. Female unemployment is higher than male, and stood in 2006 narrowly defined at nearly 20% and broadly defined at 38%. We calculated that narrowly defined 31% and broadly defined 48% of girls and women 15-29 of age living in urban areas were unemployed.

Legislation (2.4.1). Botswana has ratified the core ILO Labour Conventions, but in practice the right of association is quite restricted. Effecting the right to strike is nearly impossible. Many employers still trample workers’ rights, and the government is either unable or unwilling to confront them.

Labour relations and wage-setting (2.4.2). The union movement is rather weak, and unions mostly small. 2008 estimates point at a union density of 20% in the formal economy, or 10% of the total labour force. Actually BFTU is the only union confederation, with a separate public sector federation being set up. Collective bargaining coverage is formally 98%, but employers unilaterally decide the content of most collective agreements. Government and employers’ policies of wage restraint led to real wage growth during 1980-2003 being on average less than 1.3% yearly, and in the 2000s even negative.

The statutory minimum wage (2.5.1). The current statutory minimum wage (SMW) is, with Pula 2.10 – 3.80 hourly, set in April 2008. It does not provide a decent standard of living for workers and their families, and was only about 20% of the 2008 average wage in the formal sector.

Poverty (2.5.2). By 2002-03, 30% of the population lived below a national poverty line. Nearly two of three poor were rural, and most of them were women. In many ways female-headed households prove to be vulnerable, in rural but also in urban areas.

Population and fertility (2.6.1). Population growth has been falling, most likely to an expected 1.2% yearly in 2005-’15, with even a fall of the rural population. With 3.2 children per woman, the actual total fertility rate is still rather high, but (with 51 per 1,000) the adolescent fertility rate is quite low. Mainly because of the effects of HIV/AIDS life expectancy is continuously decreasing.

HIV/AIDS (2.6.2). Botswana has the second highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world. In 2007, 300,000 inhabitants lived with HIV, and the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate for those aged 15-49 was estimated at 23%. Incidence and consequences of HIV/AIDS are biased against women. In recent years, HIV infection levels among pregnant women attending antenatal clinics in Botswana are decreasing.

Women’s labour market share (2.6.3). In 2008, women’s overall share in paid employment was 41%, and highest in health and social work (65%), followed by other community services and finance (both 62%). 84% of all women in paid employment worked in services, broadly defined.

Agriculture (2.6.4). Long-term productivity growth in agriculture has been less than 2% yearly. Agricultural development programmes have left highly unequal ownership relations intact. Thus, young women living in urban areas and trying to make a career cannot rely on a “fall-back scenario” in which they can go back to their families living from agriculture.

Mining and manufacturing (2.6.5). Besides flourishing mining, manufacturing exports –notably of textiles-- encounter large problems, and the perspectives of manufacturing in Botswana remain quite insecure.

Commerce (2.6.6). The wholesale and retail sector turns out to be a stable grower. In the sector at large, 45% of the workforce operated informally, in majority women. Supermarkets seem to remain a limited source of employment for women.

Services (2.6.7). Transport /distribution and tourism (hotels and catering) seems to have the best employment perspectives. Expansion perspectives for the finance sector seem insecure in view of the current crisis.

Government (2.6.8). Government is an attractive employer for (young) women, with comparatively high salaries, quite some high-level jobs, and employment stability. Local government jobs may be of particular interest for women in urban villages and rural areas.

Literacy (2.7.1). The adult literacy rate --those age 15 and over that can read and write—was in 1995-2005 82%, and for females a fraction higher. Recently the youth literacy rate was 10%points higher, and even over 95% for females aged 15-24 years.

Education of girls and young women (2.7.2). In 2005, the net enrollment rate in primary education was 84%, with girls 3% points higher than boys, while the primary completion rate of girls was over 7% points higher. With notably 69% for girls in 2009, actual enrollment in secondary education is high. In regular tertiary education by 2009 female participation lagged nearly 20% behind that of men.

Female skill levels (2.7.3). In 2006, less than 12% of economically active Botswana women were unskilled, and 60% had completed second level second stage education. About 10,000 or 3.2% had completed tertiary education (high-skilled). We estimate the current size of our target group at about 14,000 girls and young women 15-29 of age, working in urban areas in commercial services in formal employment.

Wages (2.8.1). Earnings vary widely between industries, occupational groups, urban and rural areas, and citizens and non-citizens. In 2005-06, the country’s total gender pay gap was 19%, but industries with large shares of females showed gaps of over 30%, also if considerable parts of women were (high-)skilled. Among professionals and technicians / associate professionals women on average had a wage advantage, as well as in central government. However, in private business women experienced a 37% pay gap.

Working conditions (2.8.2). Working weeks turn out to be quite long in Botswana, judged by the share working usually 45 hours or more. For women, this share was over 60% in restaurants and hotels, wholesale and retail, and private households, in rural areas, among legislators and managers and among service workers.


  • Download the complete report: 

     'An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Botswana' (pdf, 413kb).