Swaziland: From education to equality

Swaziland: From education to equality

Date: May 31, 2013
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Fikile Myeni talks to her son while getting her bag ready for literacy classes held at a soup kitchen in Lubombo, Swaziland. Lubombo, 31 May: For the first time in 15 years at age 27, Fikile Myeni is going to school. Her dreams of an education were shattered in 1997 when she and her five siblings dropped out of school because their family could not afford school fees. After hearing about adult classes offered by the Sebenta National Institute of Adult Education, Myeni and 28 other women started grade one at the beginning of May.

Myeni is excited to learn English and always looks forward to her classes. “Coming to class helps me get knowledge and that frees my mind. For now we are still at the bottom, but I can’t wait to be able to speak English,” Myeni said.

Worried that friends would laugh at her, Myeni was hesitant to start classes, but her fear of illiteracy and her desire for knowledge finally pushed her to take up the challenge. “I’m more confident now and I am happy about my ambitions. I never thought it would be this close to me,” explains Myeni.

Although she has to juggle classes and looking after her two children, Myeni knows that getting an education will not only better her chances of finding a job, but soon she will no longer have to rely on neighbours to read her mail.

Siphiwe Mbhamali, a 39-year-old woman, has also signed up for classes. Mbhamali only attended school until second grade because her father did not approve of her education. She always knew that education was important but did not know where to go. “I ended up in grade two, what does it say about me? It’s my dream to read and write and I hope it will come true,” she says.

Now that Mbhamali is a mother of four, she hopes that her children do not experience the same pain of being uneducated. “I hope they finish and do well at school and not end up in the same situation as me,” explains Mbhamali.

Local NGO, Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) Communications Officer Maureen Littlejohn says, “These worthy deeds bring women closer to gender equality and equal opportunity in the country.”

These women’s stories are common in Swaziland. According to the 2012 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer published by Gender Links, the government only introduced free primary education in 2010, after civic groups took the government to court.

Swaziland has made considerable strides in improving education, since literacy levels are at 88% for women and 86% for men. There is already gender parity at secondary schools and the gender gap is slowly narrowing in primary schools. Along with other SADC countries like Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, Swaziland has higher proportions of women than men enrolled at tertiary institutions.

However, inaccessibility of schooling facilities, poor infrastructure, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, HIV and AIDS as well as sexual harassment, perpetrated by both peers and teachers, still stand in the way of girls’ education. In addition, the perception that educating girls has no value persists among many families.

With support from the Ministry of Education and Training, the Sebenta National Institute operates in nine regions of Swaziland, with the aim of providing education to people above the age of 18. The five-year course offers students two-hour classes, three days a week.

Field Supervisor Khethiwe Dlamini said the outreach programme welcomes rural women and men to enrol for English and SiSwati literacy classes, at a small fee of E20 or $2 per year. “Classes normally begin at 14:30 to 16:30. We normally ask school teachers to give lessons but it’s really up to the facilitator and the students how they arrange time,” says Dlamini.

Finding suitable facilities and venues to hold lessons remains a challenge, but luckily the Bandlancane Local Authority and the Co-operation for Development of Energy Countries (COSPE), provided a soup kitchen in the Mambane community, where lessons take place.

Women bottle mango pickle at a soup kitchen in Lubombo, Swaziland where adult literacy and skills classes are held by Sebenta National Institute.

Teacher Busisiwe Mazibuko says her new students are committed, eager to learn and believes the class of 28 women will make her proud. She explains that helping people who missed out on education enables them to dream again, “The aim is to bring education to everyone in the rural areas and also to empower women and make them literate. We believe it will be a success,” says Mazibuko.

In order to encourage entrepreneurship and promote income-generating projects, the women are not just learning spelling but also basic practical skills and handy work. This month, they are learning how to make mango pickle.

For now, Myeni and Mbhamali may still be practising their vowels, but these small steps are vigorous leaps toward education, empowerment and independence. They are determined to see their dreams come true and to see their children do the same. As Myeni sums it up: “Knowledge is life.”

Nkosingiphile Myeni is a freelance journalist in Swaziland. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.




0 thoughts on “Swaziland: From education to equality”

Melania Mandeya says:

Myeni is a hero the bold stance she took should be exampary to some
women who could still be closed up in their own prison for fear of
opening up like Myeni did. I say no turning back Myeni very soon you
will start enjoying the fruits of a liberated mindset.

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