Diversity in Gaborone
In Botswana, it is culturally acceptable for someone (especially older folks) to comment or compliment you on your weight gain as it is considered a sign of good living or that your hosts are treating you well. However, it is important to note that due to media influence most people are gravitating towards exercising and healthy living.
There is still stigma associated with people living with disabilities in Botswana; however, based on official policies regarding disability, the University of Botswana enrolls students living with disabilities and has support systems in place. There is a Disability Support Services Unit (DSSU), a student support structure under the Division of Student Affairs formed to coordinate academic adjustments (accommodations) and support services to students with disabilities enrolled at the University of Botswana. DSSU works with students with disabilities to identify their learning needs and collaborates with other departments within campus to create a barrier-free learning environment.
All academic support services on campus provided by the DSSU are free. Some of the support includes assistive technology, specialized learning materials (such as braille), and learner support services (such as a Braillist, orientation mobility instructors and Scribe).
Gender and Gender Identity
As a foreign woman in Botswana, you can expect to be approached quite often by men in ways you are not used to back home. Your initial reaction may be to strike out, feeling insulted. Unfortunately, this reaction may only lead to laughter from the man and more discomfort on your part. The best way to handle the situation isnot to engage in conversation. You should also be alert of someone who is pushing too far. If a man becomesphysical with you at any time, tell him very firmly to stop, remove yourself from the situation immediately, and contact CIEE.
Further, if you are in a homestay you will notice that due to the patriarchal nature of the society, boys are treated differently than girls. For instance, in most households, it is the girls who do most of thechores in the family. This can make some students uncomfortable and frustrated. We encourage you to be cautious until you understand the local values and norms before you try to address the situation.
If you experience any uncomfortable situations or are unsure of how to deal with a particular problem, consult the CIEE Gaborone staff.
X Gender Marker
The laws in Botswana do not recognize X gender marker parameters. This does not mean that anyone with an X gender marker passport will be refused entry, as they still hold a valid passport. However, it is important to note that this will be determined by the immigration officials at the port of entry (mostly junior staff) who could refuse entry on the basis that there are no preceding laws to guide protocol. The immigration forms that our students have to fill out specify only the gender binary (male and female).
Racial and Ethnic Identity
In Botswana, different groups of local people have different preconceptions of Americans whether black, white or Latinx, etc. All perceptions that Batswana have about Americans are largely influenced by media. For example, all Americans (especially white Americans) are perceived to be rich. On the University of Botswana campus, African or Black Americans are likely to be perceived as locals at a distance and as Americans rather than black after they hear the accent. Black American students who seek out Black Consciousness students seem to be either spurned or whole-heartedly accepted. Your experience, of course, depends on you. You are likely to come up against stereotyped perceptions all over the place. You can either shy away or avoid them, or confront them and spend time with Batswana one-on-one to get past them.
Additionally, among many black Batswana youth, black Americans are idolized; Botswana TV carries a tremendous variety of black American sitcoms and movies. Black American students can use this to their advantage if they would like to interact or do research with high school students. In a recent program, a black American engineering student's interest was to encourage more high school kids to study math. Everywhere he went kids would flock to him as he told them about the benefits and opportunities from studying further.
The majority of the people in Botswana are Christians (more than 75% of the population), thus there is a misconception among the Batswana that everyone in the country is Christian. Even though freedom of religion is enshrined in Botswana constitution, students will find out that most Batswana are not religiously inclusive.
For instance, secular meetings commonly begin with a Christian prayer. Additionally, it is common for Batswana to talk openly about religion or ask others about their religious affiliation thus showing the importance of religious identity in the country.
Diversity in gender identity and sexuality prevalent in the U.S. does not exist in Botswana. Openly queer relationships and identities are very new to Batswana culture, however, in recent years it has received more attention and more people are engaging in discussions about it. Most older generations of Batswana disapprove of queer relationships and individuals; however, this is not out of hate. The sociocultural context is very much shaped by the religion, as Botswana has a large percentage of Christians. Beliefs about sex, gender, and sexuality are conservative and deeply rooted in Christianity.
As the public discourse on queerness continues, Botswana may become more comfortable with the idea, but during your time here please be cognizant of the sex/gender/sexuality norms within Botswana culture. We advise students to observe and take this as an opportunity to learn the roots of social beliefs that may be different from their own.