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Women’s cattle ownership in Botswana. Rebranding gender relations?

Are women able to benefit from their cattle ownership? A recent study by SLU researcher Andrea Petitt shows how they can do it. 

Cattle are often portrayed as a male affair in Botswana. However, venturing out into the Kalahari countryside to scratch the surface of this state of affairs, another picture emerges. There are in fact many women from different socioeconomic background who own, manage and work with cattle in different ways, and their farming is defined by both the connection to the EU beef market and interlinked local processes of power. Cattle are ever-present in Botswana and play a paramount role in the economy, in politics and in the rural landscape of the country, as well as in many people’s cultural identity, kinship relations and everyday routines.

Andrea studied women’s involvement in cattle production in Ghanzi District to think about how peoples’ relations to certain livestock species produce, reproduce and challenge established patterns of material and social relations. More specifically she investigated how access and claims to livestock are defined by intersections of gender, ethnicity, race and class within broader contexts associated with the commercialisation of livestock production. The objective of this study is to explore how different women are able to benefit from their cattle ownership in terms of their social positions and material welfare in Botswana within the broader political, economic and sociocultural contexts associated with the commercial beef industry.

Through ethnographic fieldwork and an intersectional analysis of gendered property relations to grazing land and cattle, Andrea shows how women do benefit from both subsistence products and monetary income from cattle sales. An increased need for cash together with the possibility to sell cattle stimulated by Botswana’s beef trade with the EU have motivated women to seek control over cattle. There are women who, encouraged by gender equality messages from the Ministry of Gender Affairs, make use of the government’s loans and grants designed to facilitate entrepreneurship to start up their own cattle operations and make claims to the cattle market. Many of these women, who have control over their cattle also benefit in terms of social status and a number of those women who engage in cattle production in ways seen as new and different speak of more equal gender relations.

The above text is based on the Abstract of the PhD thesis by Andrea PetittSLU, Department of Urban and Rural Development. Andrea defended her thesis on April 15th, 2016, SLU, Uppsala.


Link to thesis in Epsilon
Thesis announcement at SLU’s calendar

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