Swaziland: Women still face discriminatory cultural practices

Swaziland: Women still face discriminatory cultural practices

Date: July 7, 2015
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Ezulwini, 7 July: Zakhe Hlanze, Gender Links Swaziland Barometer Researcher says that although gender equality is enshrined in Swaziland’s Constitution, women still face cultural practices that discriminate against them which continue to mar the positive strides the country has made. Hlanze made this observation at the on-going Swaziland SADC Gender Summit where she presented findings of the Swaziland SADC Gender Protocol Barometer.

“Positive constitutional provisions are difficult to implement in a country where traditional attitudes put women at a disadvantage. Patriarchal practices are being used in the country to prevent Swazi women from taking part in the elections, despite the country having a Constitution that guarantees their rights. Women still encounter challenges, mainly due to the duality of the legal system,” she said.

Gender Links uses the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer to rate each SADC state’s performance against the 28 targets of the SADC Gender Protocol. Swaziland signed the protocol in 2008 and ratified in 2012. The Protocol provides that by 2015, all countries shall endeavour to enshrine gender equality and equity in their constitutions and ensure that these are not compromised by any provisions, laws or practices. State parties are to implement legislative and other measures that eliminate all practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women and men. They are also to introduce affirmative action measures.

Despite the fact that the country has signed the Protocol, a lot has to be done in terms of reaching all the targets. Culture is a major obstacle to achieving the targets. However, efforts are being made by the government and non-governmental organisations working on gender issues to try and deal with the situation. In her presentation, Hlanze highlighted a number of ‘red lights’ where Swaziland is still lagging behind.

Amongst other challenges, Hlanze said Swazi women still face difficulties in registration of Customary Law marriages which is still not enforced.

“This law makes women married under this regime vulnerable to being disinherited after the death of their husband. Abortion is illegal in the country and most women undergo unsafe abortions. The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill (2009) is still a Bill after more than five years of existence. The girl child is still discriminated against, and there is no inheritance under the custom of kwendziswa, inhlanti and other cultural practices. Customary marriage is associated with puberty; girls drop out of school due to early marriages,” she explained.

There are several positive actions that the government of Swaziland is taking to protect the rights of women and girls as well as ending inequality between women and men. Lawmakers in Swaziland declared illegal the practice of men marrying underage girls which had been an accepted social norm for centuries, Hlanze revealed.

“The country reached gender equality in secondary education; the proportion of girls and boys enrolled in secondary school is now equal. There are efforts to empower women in the economy which include initiatives such as The Woman Farmer of The Year, Business Woman of The Year. Attempts have also been made to appoint women to key decision making positions, for example, the appointment of the police Assistant PRO, Deputy Commissioner at Correctional Services and Brigadier at Swaziland Defence Force,” she said.

The country has seen an increase in the number of women in decision making positions, according to the Deputy Prime Minister Paul Dlamini. Speaking when he officially opened the SADC Gender Protocol Summit on Monday, Dlamini said, “The former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan, contended that if we educate a woman, we educate a nation. This is indicative of the fact that women are the backbone of our societies. Swaziland thus, has also witnessed an increase in the number of women in decision making positions in both the public and private sector.”

Adding, Dlamini said Swaziland was a unique country with a culture that promotes communal brotherhood. He said it was imperative that gender champions use the right approaches in their endeavour to bring about a culture where men and women work together for the attainment of national development goals.

“It is sad that some of our people have not comprehended the concept of gender equality clearly. This might be due to the approach used in introducing the concept that might have caused some people to misunderstand it as an initiative that has come to disintegrate our societies or eliminate our cultural values. It is therefore important for us to understand our unique cultural beliefs as a nation so that our gender initiatives work in harmony with our values as a nation,” the DPM said.

He also applauded the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Local Government, and AMICAAL – particularly the Manzini City Council for providing street lights for people with disabilities, which he said has ensured safety and security for the marginalised societal groups.

This article is part of the Gender Links News Service special coverage of the SADC Gender Protocol Summits underway across the region, offering fresh views on everyday news






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