Swazi women rally against “abuse and inequality”

We are against “all forms of abuse, inequality, inadequate justice system and the clashes between traditional laws and constitutional laws,” a press release issued by the Swaziland Rural Women Association (SRWA) stated in connection with the celebration of the International Women’s Day in Swaziland.

According to the SRWA, the event was held “to let the rural women reassess her value and importance in the society and celebrate her achievements by highlighting all the major roles that are done by women.”

According to the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, the women at the event “disseminated information to the people, government and perpetrators of violence against women. The women [also] demand clarity as to what is government doing to uplift and empower women in the country. They also ask men as to what is it that they did to deserve such a hostile treatment from them.”

The event was attended by over 700, including a wide array of civil society organisations in Swaziland: Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, Population Services International, Family Life Association Services, Foundation For Socio Economic Justice, Swaziland Democracy Campaign, Swaziland National Union of Students and Swaziland National Ex Mine Workers Association.

Women in Swaziland are generally heavily discriminated against. In Swazi customary law, women in effect have the status of minors and cannot get a bank loan without the consent of their husbands. Women can also be fined for wearing trousers by traditional authorities.

Swaziland’s conservative and patriarchal culture is used to condone widespread violation of women’s rights in Swaziland, even though Swaziland has signed the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Swaziland’s Constitution guarantees women the right to equal treatment with men – politically, economically and socially.

In addition to the inferior legal standing of women, one in three females in Swaziland, according to UNICEF, have “experienced some form of sexual violence as a child”, and nearly two thirds of 18 to 24 years old women have “experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime”.

Additionally, more than half of the incidents of sexual violence committed against girls are not reported to anyone, as females in general are either ”not aware that what they had experienced was abuse” or ”feared abandonment if they told anyone”, and according to Amnesty International and the US Department of State, “many men regard rape as a minor offence”. Generally, there has been a steady rise in violence against women in the past ten years.

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