Same-sex relationships among women in Botswana

Developmental challenges for society and social work

Authored by: Gloria Jacques

The Handbook of Social Work and Social Development in Africa

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472468512
eBook ISBN: 9781315557359
Adobe ISBN: 9781317029380


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The World Health Organisation (2004) views sexuality as:

a central aspect of being human throughout life (that) encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships [and] is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical and religious and spiritual factors.

(p. 3) This chapter focuses on lesbians – or women who have sex with women – as a particular component of sexuality in Botswana, a politically stable country renowned internationally for its constitutional democracy. Towards the end of the 20th century, when other African states were being stringently and painfully subjected to structural adjustment policies instituted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Heald, 2006), international donors provided assistance to Botswana to deal with the HIV and AIDS pandemic. However, this was withdrawn towards the end of the 1990s because of the country’s mineral wealth (mainly accrued from the sale of diamonds). As a result, Botswana assumed responsibility for its own epidemiological planning and strategic development and became highly respected at the international and regional levels for the manner in which this was achieved (Allen & Heald, 2004). However, a violation of the rights of same-sex practising women – and men – resides in Botswana’s Penal Code that effectively criminalises sexual conduct between adult males and between adult females. This is in contravention of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (United Nations, 1966). Furthermore, criminalisation of same-sex practices in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole (and Botswana in particular) has resulted in a lack of programs, services, and interventions for these marginalised subgroups (Jacques, 2014).

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