16 Days of Activism News from Swaziland: 6 December

Date: December 6, 2004
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Speaking during the commemoration of World AIDS Day held at Siteki in the Lubombo region on Saturday, Swaziland?s Queen Mother, Ntombi Tfwala condemned Swazi men who abuse women and children.

News from Swaziland
16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
6th December 2004

By Bhekie Maseko
Swaziland Media and Gender Watch

Speaking during the commemoration of World AIDS Day held at Siteki in the Lubombo region on Saturday, Swaziland’s Queen Mother, Ntombi Tfwala condemned Swazi men who abuse women and children.

“There is no reason for Swazi women to perceive men as lions and jackals who are all out to devour them. We are all human beings. I want to point out that such abuse against women comes at a time when the nation is affected by the national crises of HIV/ AIDS where women and children are needed to care for the sick in their families. This is worrying because most of the time men need women to take care of them when they are sick,” she said.

About 400 people attended the commemoration including women’s regiments and children. “Lutsango” the women regiment performed traditional dances and songs about what was happening to women and children as a result of HIV/ AIDS.

Chief Mdlaka Gamedze who spoke on behalf of chiefs in the Lubombo region said chiefs are disturbed by the continued abuse of women and children. “We are also worried about the increasing numbers of orphaned children as a result of the HIV/ AIDS pandemic. These children suffer a double blow, they have lost their parents and they abandoned by their biological relatives to suffer,” he said.

UNICEF Country Representative Alan Brody who was also present said: “Men seek to dominate women and girls for their own pleasures, use customs, law and religion to justify and impose that dominance. They demand rights and privileges, but ignore responsibilities that go with them. They fail to bring up boys to have an ethic and skills for self control.”

“Men are quick to blame women for promiscuity, but how can this be otherwise when men believe they have rights to multiple partners?” He explained that if large numbers of men who are powerful are always asking for and often getting sex, there must be also large numbers of women who when asked for sex are replying “yes”. He observed that had HIV come to Swaziland few hundred years ago, it would have made little progress. He observed that before the times of King Mswati II, Swazis circumcised their boys, and adult men trained those boys in proper sexual behaviour, and respect for the virginity of girls, and respect for the institution of marriage.

“The umcwasho tradition that was resuscitated a few years ago is a vestige of those ideas. But it is not enough to take on the symbols of the tradition, which the girls wear in the form of beads and tassels. Those symbols mean nothing, if men do not respect them”, he declared much to the approval of the women and girls present.

On another note, Thembi Nkambule of the Swaziland Network of People Living with HIV/ AIDS said people living with the virus are concerned about the continued use of negative pictures in posters, newspapers and other publications. “These pictures send the wrong message about us. It makes us feel condemned and without hope. Most often pictures of deteriorating persons who are at the point of death are shown and this make us feel more sick because we lose hope about life”, she said.

Nkambule felt there was need for men to also participate in such gatherings because men form an integral part in the fight against HIV/ AIDS. She called for a review of the Abstain, Be faithful and use a Condom strategy. “Women living with the virus feel this strategy does not work for them because they cannot negotiate for safe sex, men are culturally allowed to have multiple partners and the female condoms are not available in rural areas where most of the infected women live”, she stated.

The Chairperson of the National Emergency Response Committee on HIV/ AIDS (NERCHA), Chief Simelane has called for the protection of women and children in their chiefdoms. “Women play an important role in the Swazi society. It is very unfortunate that the same women are the first contract and infected by the HIV virus. The moral values of men have decayed such that today we have men who rape, murder, beat women and children at will. We call upon the protection of women in this country”, he said.

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