Friday, August 30, 2019

Swaziland High Court rules married women equal under the law to their husbands

A law in Swaziland / eSwatini that relegates married women to the legal status of minors under the guardianship of their husbands has been ruled unconstitutional by the kingdom’s High Court.

The High Court of eSwatini ruled on Friday (30 August 2019) that the common law doctrine of marital power offended women’s constitutional rights to dignity and equality.

Marital power refers to the archaic common law doctrine that a husband has the ultimate right to decide over his wife and the matrimonial property. The doctrine of marital power means that a married woman cannot deal with the marital assets without the knowledge and consent of her husband, yet her husband can do so without seeking and obtaining her approval.  Under the doctrine, a wife cannot conclude contracts without her husband’s permission, she cannot represent herself in civil suits, and she cannot administer property, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) said in a review of the case.

SALC reported the court struck down sections 24 and 25 of the Marriage Act to the extent that it provided that marriages were governed by common law ‘unless both parties to the marriage are African in which case… the marital power of the husband and proprietary rights of the spouses shall be governed by Swazi law and custom.’

SALC said, ‘Relying on recent judgments by the Botswana and India courts relating to the criminalisation of sexual orientation, the eSwatini High Court emphasised that dignity is an essential element of respect and honour and being subjected to marital power and minority status denies women their right to dignity.’

Colani Hlatjwayo, Executive Director of Women and Law Southern Africa-Swaziland, said, ‘The effect of the judgment is that the common law doctrine of marital power is declared unconstitutional, and that all spouses married in terms of the Marriage Act in community of property have equal capacity to administer the marital property. As such, this case is an important step towards marriage equality in eSwatini.’

Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, is a deeply conservative kingdom. 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.’

See also

Woman, 36, in Swaziland beaten and ordered to leave home because she is not married

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Amnesty says Swazi Govt failing to help people forcibly evicted from their homes a year ago

The Government of Swaziland / eSwatini has failed to help the hundreds of people who were forcibly evicted from their homes a year ago, Amnesty International reported.

‘Despite Amnesty International having raised the alarm over forced evictions that left hundreds of people homeless, the eSwatini government has not taken any steps to provide reparations, including alternative housing, to the victims of this human rights violation,’ Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa said on Thursday (29 August 2019).

Mwananyanda added, ‘Many of the communities who are facing notices of eviction have stopped planning for their future and they are devastated by the prospect of finding themselves on the streets. To wilfully ignore their suffering and distress is simply unacceptable.’

Those who have been forcibly evicted and others who remain at risk of forced evictions are mainly subsistence farmers. ‘The forced evictions not only impact their right to adequate housing but also their livelihoods, thus pushing them deeper into poverty,’ Amnesty said.

In a report in 2018, Amnesty International revealed that many Swazis were vulnerable to forced evictions because they lacked security of tenure, due to the kingdom’s ‘deeply flawed’ land governance system.

Most of the land is Swazi Nation Land, held in ‘trust’ by the absolute monarch King Mswati III. He has power to allocate it to individuals or families through his chiefs. The remainder of the land is title-deed land, owned by private entities or the government.

Amnesty International found that at least four communities, Sigombeni, Madonsa, Mbondzela and Vuvulane, were at risk of imminent eviction from their farming land and their homes. 

Amnesty reported, ‘In Sigombeni, at least seven homesteads comprising 75 adults and 29 children are at risk of imminent eviction after the Central Farm Dwellers Tribunal ruled on 27 March 2018 that they should vacate portion 1 of Farm 246 in the Manzini region. The farm owner does not want people to live on the farm anymore. The affected families told Amnesty International that they would lose at least 17 graves on their land if they were finally removed.’

One woman told Amnesty, ‘We are pensioners. We don’t have money. [The government] should at least compensate us and give us money. It’s not only us affected [there are other communities affected]. We don’t want to go.’

In Madonsa, more than 200 people from approximately 58 families are facing eviction from land claimed by a parastatal authority.

In Mbondzela, approximately 100 people, are at risk of being evicted from title-deed land. The residents have appealed to the Minister of Natural Resources and Energy who has referred the matter back to the Central Farm Dwellers Tribunal for reconsideration.

In Vuvulane at least 16 families remain at risk of eviction.

In the past few years, hundreds of people have been affected by forced evictions in Swaziland. Most of the evictions were carried out in the absence of adequate notice, genuine consultation and without adequate compensation, in violation of international law, Amnesty said.

In May 2019, hundreds of people marched at Malkerns to protest the forced eviction of people who had been left homeless and destitute. The march was jointly organised by a variety of civil society organisations. The Times Sunday, reported at the time one of the evicted people said, ‘We eat from the bins as we do not have homes and cannot practice farming.’

See also

Evicted farmers take on Swaziland absolute monarch to get their land back
Bulldozers move in to evict families
Homes destroyed for King’s vanity project

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Disabled women in Swaziland fear nurses trying to force them to be sterilised

Women with disabilities in Swaziland / eSwatini say they fear nurses are trying to force them to be sterilised so they cannot have babies. 

According to the Swazi Observer, ‘health practitioners coerce them into removing their uterus as they are told that they were incapable of mothering children because of their disabilities’.

It published an account from a woman, aged 25, who uses a wheelchair and was in labour. ‘One nurse at first wanted to know how I was going to mother the baby because I myself needed to be taken care of,’ she said.

She added, ‘I felt like I was being stripped naked. The conversation turned serious when I was told to consider being made sterile before I leave the hospital.’

The newspaper said, ‘After having refused to be made sterile and fearing not being capable of having any more children, one nurse made remarks to the effect that next time she returned, there would be no negotiations.’

The Observer reported Disabled Women of Swaziland Director Buyi Masuku said she knew of individual experiences of some women with disabilities when being attended to in public health institutions.

The newspaper said many parents had their disabled daughters sterilised to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Human Rights Commissioner Sabelo Masuku told the newspaper this was a shocking gross violation of human rights and one of a kind the commission had never dealt with before.

People with physical or mental challenges are often mistreated in Swaziland. In March 2019 it was reported a 17-year-old girl with deformed feet who had never been able to walk was forced by her family to live in a shack like a dog. The family said they had tried to accommodate her in the house but she would frequently soil herself if there was no one around to assist her. 

In 2017 Autism Swaziland Director Tryphinah Mvubu said people with autism were often excluded from social services because their parents kept them away from the public in fear of embarrassment. 

The Swazi Observer newspaper at the time reported her saying, ‘Some parents refuse to accept children with this condition as this disorder is considered to be a bad omen, hence they are locked in the house day in and day out so they cannot be seen by members of the community. They are so stigmatised to an extent that in some cases they are not even counted as members of the family.’

It is not only autistic children who are hidden. In July 2016, it was reported in local media that two disabled orphan children in Swaziland had been concealed from the world after a government official told their family it would harm the image of the kingdom if people knew of their condition.

It was reported that the two children aged 16 and eight might be suffering from polio. It was said they had not walked since they were born and had shrunk muscles and could only crawl. They both cannot talk. 

The abandonment of the children was one of many examples of poor treatment of people with disabilities in Swaziland.

A report published by SINTEF Technology and Society, Global Health and Welfare in 2011 that studied living conditions among people with disabilities in Swaziland, found, ‘There is a general belief that those who have a disability are bewitched or inflicted by bad spirits.

‘Many believe that being around people with disabilities can bring bad luck. As a result, many people with disabilities are hidden in their homesteads and are not given an opportunity to participate and contribute to society.’

It also found that people with disabilities had been abandoned by the Swazi Government. The report stated, ‘The absence of any comprehensive laws and policies to address people with disabilities’ access to equal opportunities reflect a lack of political will and a failure to recognize disability as a human right issue contributes to the devaluing and dehumanising of people with disabilities.

‘People with disabilities have the same rights as able-bodied people and they are entitled to enjoy all citizenry rights.’

See also

Hidden sick kids: UNICEF responds

Disabled people ‘treated like animals’