Grace Bhembe – Swaziland

Grace Bhembe – Swaziland

Date: July 1, 2015
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Grace Bhembe, of Mbabane City Council is the only woman councillor in the capital city of Swaziland. Grace works as a personal secretary to the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism. She also coordinates the wellness programme in the ministry.

Bhembe’s first encounter with Gender Links was in 2010, when she made a call to Gender Links headquarters, enquiring about the Gender Justice and Local Government Summit. She wanted to find out how to participate at the Summit. However, Grace was disappointed when the person she spoke to gave her a negative response. She says she lost confidence in the organisation.

Bhembe is excited and motivated about how things have changed since beginning to work with Gender Links.   In 2011, she participated in a Gender Links workshop. Mbabane City Council is also a Gender Links Local Government Centre of Excellence, and is mainstreaming gender in all of their services and programmes.

Bhembe is part of the Municipality Gender Policy Development Team and represents the City Council at the Swaziland Local Government Association (SWALGA). She believes that her participation in the GL workshop helped her fully appreciate gender issues.

Apart from her responsibilities of as a councillor, Bhembe is a member and national coordinator of Parents and Children with Disabilities in Swaziland and she represents the country as General Secretary for the African Disability organisation of Parents of Children with Disability in Africa.   She is also a committee member of the Children’s Consortium Committee, a consortium that works in collaboration with NGOs in Swaziland on welfare and rights of children.

In 2007 during the local government elections, her husband encouraged and supported her to stand for the elections.

“I had a very low self-esteem, because I did not understand that women could be leaders in decision-making positions. In my knowledge and understanding, men are leaders, not women. My husband supported me and I ended up standing for elections and I wonÀ said Councillor Bhembe.

Councillor Bhembe’s ward encompasses the cityÀ“the bus station area and market place. Street vending remains a major issue at council meetings. There were many women working as street vendors to earn money to care for their families.

Bhembe has made a difference in her ward by helping women who sell their wares around Mbabane city centre. She moved a motion for the council to issue street vendors with trading licences, legalising their operations. Licences were subsequently issued and most of the street vendors now sell their wares legally as they are now registered with the city council.

As a woman in politics, Councillor Bhembe believes in her role to transform the lives of other women by ensuring that womens’ voices are heard and are given opportunities to take up decision-making positions. She also believes it is her role to impact the lives of men while holding office, as she works within a male-dominated sphere of power. She teaches men in power about gender issues.

Bhembe is also excited to be involved in the development of a gender policy for Mbabane City Council. She wishes that Gender Links could help the council with the process by sharing their expertise in policy creation and implemenation.

Bhembe’s future plans revolve around her desire to help children. Her wish is to help them  obtain life skills in farming and marketing, ultimately empowering them to be self-reliant.

In her concluding thoughts, Bhembe would like to see the number of women representatives serving Municipal Councils and Parliament increase significantly to give women voice in all critical structures of power, including parliament.


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