“Pressure” and “solidarity” causes Swazi police to apologize for march ban

“The Royal Swaziland Police have written a statement of apology to the Swaziland Rural Women’s Assembly,” the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice (FSEJ) said in a statement on Friday.

According to FSEJ this apology has not “come natural” and the excuse given, that “permission had been granted but there was a communications breakdown,” was not likely to be true.

Instead, FSEJ said that the resolve of the Swaziland Rural Women’s Assembly (SRWA) and “pressure exerted by international pressure groups” had been the true reason for the apology. “To us this is an example of the practical power of solidarity, not only to this matter but for the broader struggle for democracy in Swaziland.”

Last Wednesday Swazi police had banned a march arranged by the SRWA intended to raise awareness about gender-based violence in general, and more specifically to protest against a man punishing his girlfriend by stripping her naked, cutting of some of her hair with a knife and injuring her in the process, and parading her naked along a heavily trafficated road for 3 kilometres.

“The women made to walk naked for 3 kilometres by a man carrying a knife still feels alone and her voice silenced. But this time it is not because we were silent but because women who stood with her in solidarity were not allowed to even speak on her behalf,” Swaziland Rural Women’s Asembly said in a press release on Thuraday.

Swazi women are legally subordinate to men. 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.

Violence against women is widespread in Swaziland. One in three females 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”, according to UNICEF. Generally, there has been a steady rise in violence against women in the past ten years.

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.

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