Women’s rights continue to be ‘a challenging issue’ in Swaziland, a report just published by Afrobarometer states.
‘Violence and abuse are a major development concern in eSwatini [the new name for Swaziland], profoundly affecting women and children,’ the report states.
About one in three women experienced some form of sexual violence as a child, and one in four experienced other forms of physical violence as a child.
After surveying 1,200 adults in Swaziland, Afrobarometer reported people thought the Swazi Government was doing well in promoting opportunities and equality for women but fewer than one in three (29 percent) of people thought that these had actually improved ‘compared to a few years ago’.
The survey suggested, ‘Strong majorities of the Swazi population support equal rights for women when it comes to land and work. About seven in 10 (69 percent) say women should have the same right as men to own and inherit land, and almost two-thirds (64 percent) disagree with the idea that men should have more right than women to jobs when employment is scarce.
‘However, when it comes to gender roles in the home, seven in 10 respondents (71 percent) prefer that a woman, rather than a man, take care of the household and children.’
Afrobarometer added, ‘An overwhelming majority (95 percent) of citizens say a man is “never justified” in beating his wife, but one in 20 respondents (5 percent) see wife-beating as “sometimes” or “always” justified.’
Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in African countries.
In March 2018 it was announced the European Union was funding a three-year project in Swaziland to advocate for and support women’s rights in the kingdom.
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)