A 36-year-old woman in Swaziland / eSwatini was beaten by three of her close relatives and ordered to leave home because she had no job and was not married.
The case which was reported in local media shines a spotlight on the plight of women in the male-dominated kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The Times of Swaziland reported on Wednesday (16 January 2019) that the woman whom it named had been beaten by three close relatives, including a woman. They hit her in the face with a brick. The newspaper published a photograph of her with a swollen face.
The Times reported, ‘She was given strict instructions to leave the homestead and get employment or find a husband to marry her.’
The newspaper added she said, ‘she was being blamed for misfortunes by relatives at the homestead because she was not married’.
The case highlights the position of women in Swaziland where by tradition they are considered to be owned by their fathers or their husbands.
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.
In March 2018 the European Union in Swaziland began funding a three-year project called Supporting Women Empowerment & Equality in Swaziland (SWEES) to advocate for and support women’s rights in the kingdom.
In 2009 a report conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on behalf of the Swaziland Ministry of Economic Planning and Development found, ‘Unfortunately, the status of women is so lower than that of men, that she will not eat until everyone has eaten.’
During meal times, the women waited for the men and the youth to eat before they did. ‘Eating last also means that her choice of food is limited,’ the report said. ‘Traditionally, she does not consume milk and its products at her marital home, unless she earns permission through the offer of liphakelo beast by her husband.’ This is when the husband gives the woman a cow for her own use.
In September 2018 a report published by Afrobarometer found women’s rights continued to be ‘a challenging issue’ in Swaziland.
‘Violence and abuse are a major development concern in eSwatini profoundly affecting women and children,’ the report stated.
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.’
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