ESWATINI: Despite the global calls on gender equality, women in Eswatini (Swaziland) continue to suffer discrimination, violence due to cultural and religious norms.
Although the country’s constitution enshrines the rights of women under section 28, practically women are not protected due to gender cultural norms that marginalize them in society.
The Constitution Act of 2005 has a Bill of Rights which includes equality before the law for men and women in all spheres of life; rights of women, a quota for the inclusion of women in decision-making positions, access to land amongst others.
In Eswatini, women are subjected to be always submissive to men in all decisions. Eswatini has a patriarchal background where polygamy and violence towards women are widespread.
Due to this, the country has prevailing records of HIV and AIDS despite it being a small country with an estimated population of 1.2 million.
According to UN, ” A woman’s inability to challenge cultural norms and prevailing sexual practices, including the low use of contraceptives, has contributed to approximately a third of women between the ages of 15 to 49 living with HIV (31%), as compared to a fifth of men (20%)”.
Gender disparity in Eswatini
While talking to Transcontinental Times, Thandiswa Lushaba a 20-year-old Eswatini native woman said that in the country the men have all the authority over women, especially in marriages as they are final decision-makers.
“Gender inequality in the country is mainly psychological and cultural, and it’s limiting us, girls and women, to attain our destination and even set achievable goals,” Lushaba said.
“Our parents decide everything for us and even determine our marriages and husbands decide what’s good for you and do whatever they want with our lives. It’s high time our parents stop socializing traditional notions of a gender stereotype, femininity, and masculinity to the future generation”, she added.
In line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, gender-oriented campaigns and workshops lead by men are being conducted to promote an inclusive society.
The SDG 16 seeks to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”
Women empowerment program led by men
United Youth For Sustainable Globe Eswatini (UYSG) is a youth-led organization that is working to motivate and empower young minds based on socio-economic development.
In a statement, UYSG Director Gcina Shongwe said, “Although the United Nations (UN) passed the law of gender equality here in Swaziland, there is still more work because there is no compliance to that as women continue to be treated like animals and children”.
“As we grew men were taken as the head of families and leaders and this even impacted in workspace because women were not allowed to be in a leadership position in all circles”, he added.
Despite these efforts, women continue to strive for land and equal representation in political and decision-making processes. Single women either divorced, unmarried or widowed are not allowed to access land in their names unless they register in a male child name or get married.
Lack of measures to protect women
Secretary-General for Rural Assembly Women, Cebile Dlamini said that the country has good policy frameworks. These frameworks have provided an enabling environment to advance women’s rights but with no instrument to rely on when their rights have been violated.
“While the Eswatini Constitution provides for equality before the law and non-discrimination, it does not prevent discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender identity. Gender stereotypes and expectations relegate women to second-class citizens and are major barriers to their participation in public decision-making processes and electoral systems”, she said.
She also said some other policies and laws provide a conducive environment for the promotion of gender equality and the rights of women that include the National Gender Policy, The Sexual Offences, and Domestic Violence Act, The Child Protection and Welfare Act. However, the implementation of these responsive clauses is quite slow.
Call for programs that promote women empowerment
Dlamini has arranged gender equality responsive campaigns to encourage women’s participation and equality in the country as the media in Eswatini is ignorant of women’s issues.
“With such a landscape, there is need for programs that encourage women to participate in political decision making, media and community awareness as well as boost the capacity of women’s organizations working within the community and within public decision-making structures”.
“Women and girls experience different kinds of violence in our society, and this violence is perpetrated by the Patriarchal society that we live in”, she said.
In Eswatini, equal representation is one of the central issues of gender equality and women participation. Eswatini has a dual legal system, Roman-Dutch common law and Swazi customary law operate side by side, and this system has resulted in conflicts that violate women and girls’ rights.