“Silang mabele, gamang dikgomo, ‘tsatsi le phirimile”
Traditional phrase in Setswana folkore song
Colonial thinking about the role of women has honed a stereotype that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. While the lived realities of African women have often not fit into the stereotype, it remains powerful and needs dismantling. We have to redress this colonial myth and replace it with reality; that a woman’s place in the Anglophonic colonial period in Southern Africa is in agriculture; both pastoral and arable. Colonialism pushed African women from their place at the heart of agriculture to underpaid seasonal farm labourers, or objects for modernization of agriculture at the expense of their own indigenous knowledge systems. The collusion between patriarchy and colonialism justified the dispossession of Africans of land, especially African women. As extractive commercial agriculture replaced production for livelihood, the little remaining land that Africans had access to, became a male preserve in a way that had been unprecedented. Tensions over land ownership became not only nationalist struggles, also gendered struggles.
Fast-tracking to a post-independence era, women have become understated archetype of agricultural farm workers, however battle with access to land, or entering spaces of leading within farming based on several intersectional sociopolitical, socioeconomic and environmental issues that require redressing.
In Botswana’s context, multiple stakeholders have played a pivotal role in attempts to address gender inequalities in citizenship, farming industry or inheritance such as in the 2013 landmark case that led to the end of a patriarchal inheritance system. The battle ground has been through formal institutional structures such as the High Court or the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board. To a lesser extent, accidental feminist ally ship has happened through men granting their daughters, wives and nieces the opportunity to own bits of their land for small scaled commercialization. The stories of women’s access to land or lack thereof in Botswana are multiple untold and need to be amplified and archived, as we push towards the rightful place of women as farmers of note in their own right.
Through the Letsema Project, an autonomous non-partisan project that includes individuals from advocacy, academia, media and other sectors to cultivate the seeds for Botswana’s next generation of civic and women leaders, the unapologetic representation of women farm owners is birthed.
According to Dr. Itumeleng P. Oag, one of the resource persons at a Letsema convening on agriculture and extractivism under her study “Female Labour Force Participation in Agricultural Sector: The Case of Botswana”, her study noted that while women are more educated than men, men dominate the labour market in Botswana. Further, women experience higher poverty rates, especially those who live in rural areas. Statistics Botswana (2018) corroborates this statement with evidence that 55% female households are affected by poverty than men (45%).
This emphasizes the need to use agriculture, Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest employer (According to the World Bank) to eradicate poverty for women. However, this process within an exclusionary system makes the implementation of the solution an uphill battle. The Letsema Project has further noted through statistics that the hurdles that enhance difficulty in female participation are based on land ownership patterns. The norm in Botswana is for male heirs to inherit land while women become land users. Quite a number of women do not own title deeds to land, let alone medium to large-scale farms.
The Letsema project, through the women in farming initiative, is aimed at pausing time through storytelling and reflecting on notable women in different stages of their farming careers. Some running farms employing 140 people, others on a hiatus to restructure their business, and others organizing the process of ensuring qualitative product that could help shift the way Batswana consumers think about local produce. The Women in Farming initiative sets to place a marker in history to note the diverse representation of eight unique women that are all brought together for their love for farming and achieving work beyond their wildest dreams.
The narrative of the women farmer in Botswana will expand from field work into the boardroom and large-scale commercialization with each role carrying dignity and economic value. All through one story at a time. Journey with us through the power of pen, digital storytelling through The Afrolutionist on the following hashtags #LetsemaProject #FESBotswana and #WomenInFarmingBW.