20 March 2018

Swaziland: New Drive for Swazi Women's Rights

Photo: Supplied
Senteni Masango (file photo).
analysis

The European Union in Swaziland is funding a multi-million emalangeni three-year project to advocate for and support women's rights in the kingdom where many are legally treated as children.

It is called Supporting Women Empowerment & Equality in Swaziland (SWEES) and will be implemented by the Coordination Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO) in Swaziland.

EU Ambassador in Swaziland Esmeralda Hernandez Aragones told a launch meeting at the Sibane hotel in Ezulwini on Friday (16 March 2018) the project aimed to create an enabling environment for the protection and promotion of women and girls' rights in Swaziland.

The Swazi Observer reported, 'The ambassador said high levels of gender-based violence, poverty which bears the face of a woman, HIV/AIDS as well as lack of enabling legal framework to protect and promote women's rights continue to persist in excluding women's meaningful participation in communities.'

A sum the equivalent of E3.7 million (US$308,000) will be made available.

Women remain oppressed in Swaziland and a main reason for this is King Mswati III who rules as an absolute monarch, according to report on women in the kingdom published in 2016.

ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) reported that despite claims that Swaziland was a modern country, 'the reality is, despite pledges and commitments, women continue to suffer discrimination, are treated as inferior to men, and are denied rights.'

ACTSA added, 'The King has demonstrated he is unwilling to change the status quo and promotes multiple aspects of the patriarchal society.'

In a briefing paper called Women's Rights in Swaziland ACTSA said, 'Swaziland has a deeply patriarchal society, where polygamy and violence against women are normalised, deeply unequal cultural and religious norms, and a male monarch who is unwilling to make any change. All this contributes towards the daily discrimination faced by women.'

Among discriminations against women highlighted by ACTSA were the high levels of girls dropping out of school. ACTSA reported, 'Cultural gender norms dictate that women and girls provide the bulk of household-related work, including physical and emotional care. As a result, girls are under pressure to drop out from school, especially where there are few adults available to care for children and the elderly, for example, in child-headed households.'

ACTSA also highlighted that women lacked the legal rights to administer their own assets. It reported, 'Most married women are denied equal status as legal adults: they cannot buy or sell property or land, sign contracts or conduct legal proceedings without the consent of their husbands. Many widows, denied the right to own land, are forced from their homes.'

Women also have few chances to find jobs. Swaziland was ranked 150th out of 188 countries in the world in the Gender Inequality Index, ACTSA reported. 'Men control household resources and thus women remain dependent. This often results in women seeking alternative avenues for income, including transactional and commercial sex,' it said.

Some of the statistics on 'life as a female in Swaziland' quoted in the report include:

One in three girls experience sexual violence before they reach the age of 18 (Amnesty International, 2010);

31 percent of women are HIV-positive (UNAIDS, 2014);

70 percent of female sex workers are HIV-positive (AVERT, 2015);

Early and forced marriage is 'normal' (Amnesty International, 2010);

Marital rape is legal (Amnesty International, 2010);

Out of 65 delegates in the House of Assembly, only four are women (6 percent) (Department of Gender and Family Affairs, 2014).

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