Gender Equality in Swaziland

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Swaziland
flag_Swaziland.png
Flag of Swaziland
Population (in Mil.) 1.23
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 4.05
Sex Ratio (m/f) 0.99
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 0.979591837
Fertility Rate 3.11
Estimated Earned Income (f/m)
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 4.4
Women in Parliament (in %) 1.8
INDICES
Human Development Index 141/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 74/86
Gender Inequality Index 141/186
Gender Equity Index 74/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index /128
Global Gender Gap Index /68
More information on variables

The Constitution of Swaziland, adopted in February 2006, grants identical legal rights to men and women, but Swazi tradition continues to restrict women in inferior roles. Legislation in Swaziland is based on a dual system of traditional and civil laws. Several discriminatory laws are still in force, having not yet been aligned with the anti-discrimination measures in the Constitution.

About one-third of households in Swaziland are headed by women. Those living in rural areas face the greatest challenges as their lives are largely determined by common law, which contains numerous provisions that undermine gender equality.

Social Institutions

The Swazis of southern Africa gained independence in 1968. Civil unrest during the 1990s led the King, the world’s last absolute monarch, to introduce political reforms to enhance democracy. A constitution for Swaziland came into force in 2006, however political parties remain banned.[1] Like its neighbouring countries, Swaziland has a high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, recently surpassing Botswana as the country with the highest known HIV/AIDS prevalence rate.[2] The World Bank classifies Swaziland as a lower middle income country.[3]

Although a number of legal and policy reforms have been introduced to improve women’s status in Swaziland, the dual legal system and persistence of discriminatory practices continues to hinder progress towards gender equality.[4] For instance, despite a constitutional right to equality, many aspects of customary law limits the rights of women to own land, inherit property, find employment and conduct business.[5] The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Swaziland bears gendered dimensions, with women’s unequal status increasing their vulnerability to HIV and women also bearing a greater burden of care.[6]

Sections 20 and 28 of the Constitution of Swaziland, adopted in February 2006, grants the same legal rights to men and women. Swaziland ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2004 without reservation. In 2011, the Human Development Index for Swaziland was 0.522, placing the country at 140 out of 187 countries.[7] For the Gender Inequality Index Swaziland received a score of 0.546, placing the country at 110 out of 146 countries with data.[8] Swaziland is not ranked as part of the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Gender Gap report.[9]

Discriminatory Family Code

The Marriage Act 1964 places the age of consent for marital purposes at 21 for both males and females. However, with parental consent, a female can marry at the age of 16 and a male at the age of 18.[10] It is reported that there is no marriageable age for customary marriages where males and females are considered ready to marry upon reaching puberty.[11] The UNFPA reports that girls as young as 13 are married under customary law.[12] Section 19 (1) of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act 2005 criminalises forced arranged marriages.[13] Whilst forced marriages are prohibited by civil law, some customary marriages are entered into without the full consent of the partners. For example, in some communities it is deemed consent to marriage if a woman visits her boyfriend three times. [14]

Early marriage in Swaziland is not as common compared to other African countries with the United Nations reporting, based on 2006 data that 7 % of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 0.2 % of boys in the same age range. In 1986, 1.8 % of girls aged between 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed which indicates that societal acceptance of early marriage has increased in recent decades.[15]

Polygamy is not recognised under civil law in Swaziland, however customary law allows men to take an unlimited number of wives.[16] Data from the 2006-07 Demographic Health Survey indicates that 18 % of currently married women are in a marriage with one or more co-wives. Based on the data, polygamy is more common in rural areas compared to urban areas. [17]

Fathers and mothers in Swaziland do not enjoy equal parental authority. Guardianship primarily vests in the father of the child. Even where the marriage has ended in divorce the mother may be granted custody only, with guardianship remaining with the father.[18]

Section 34 of the Constitution provides that a surviving spouse is entitled to a reasonable provision out of the estate of the other spouse whether the spouse died having made a valid will or not and whether the spouses were married by civil or customary rites.[19] Despite this legal protection, the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions reports that ‘property grabbing’ from widows is common, citing a study that found that 41 % of widows had their property unlawfully seized by in-laws.[20] Further, widows are often forced to marry another male in their deceased husband’s family which results in the loss of the guardianship of their children and right to their husband’s immovable property.[21] The United Nations Swaziland office reports that girls cannot inherit property from their parents.[22]

Restricted Physical Integrity

The Swaziland Crimes Act currently prohibits rape, incest, indecent assault, abduction, kidnapping, public indecency and assault. The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill of 2005 awaits enactment by the parliament. If passed, this law will specifically prohibit marital rape, the indecent treatment of children that does not include penetration, sexual harassment and trafficking.[23] Despite rape being prohibited by law, a lack of enforcement by authorities and the reluctance of women to report rape prevent perpetrators being held to account.[24] Although women have the right to charge their husbands with assault under both civil and traditional law, penalties for men found guilty often depend on the court’s discretion.[25] The US Department of State reports that in traditional courts women considered ‘unruly’ or ‘disobedient’ were less likely to have their spouses convicted of assault.[26]

According to the US Department of State, rape is common in Swaziland, with 770 cases being reported in 2008.[27] The United Nations Swaziland office report that of all criminal offences reported, 29 % were cases of sexual offences against women.[28] Approximately one in four females in Swaziland experiences physical violence as a child, and among youth aged 18-24, about 9 % had experienced coerced sexual intercourse before they turned 18.[29] There is a reported link between the sexual coercion of young women and HIV infection.[30] Sexual violence in educational settings has been noted as a particular problem in Swaziland, with a 2003 study by the Ministry of Education finding high levels of sexual abuse, primarily perpetrated by uncles and male teachers. The study found that this type of sexual abuse was rarely reported.[31]

Domestic violence is reported to be common in Swaziland. The United Nations Swaziland office reports that police reports indicate an increase in reported domestic violence crimes, from 357 in 2006 to 513 in 2007.[32] Some domestic violence cases reported to the police include physical assault sometimes leading to death and murder.[33] According to a survey conducted in 2008 by the government's Central Statistics Office, 18 % of females between 13 and 44 years old had contemplated suicide, primarily as a result of domestic violence.[34] A key factor contributing to the high prevalence of violence against women is the persistence of attitudes that excuse and normalise violence. According to a government survey conducted in 2008, 60 % of men believed it was acceptable to beat their wives.[35]


Female genital mutilation is reportedly not practiced in Swaziland. [36] Limitations on women’s reproductive rights also infringes upon women’s physical integrity in Swaziland. Abortion is permitted in Swaziland to save a woman’s life or health or due to foetal impairment. It is not permitted in the event of rape or incest, on request or on social or economic grounds. [37] The 2006-2007 Demographic and Health Survey found that overall 51 % of married women use contraception and 48 % use modern methods of contraception. Access to reproductive health services is a challenge with 24 % of married women reporting an unmet need with respect to family planning. The survey also revealed negative attitudes amongst men in Swaziland towards family planning with more than 6 out of 10 men believing that a woman who uses contraception may become promiscuous.[38]

Son Bias

Gender disaggregated data on rates of infant mortality and early childhood nutrition are not available for Swaziland. With respect to access to education, UNICEF data shows that gender parity has been achieved in primary school enrolments which indicates that there may be no preferential treatment of sons with respect to primary education.[39] However, the United Nations Swaziland office reports that a gender gap emerges in progression to secondary and tertiary education, with gender inequalities in access to education starting at the age of 16.[40] This data indicates the possibility of preferential treatment of sons with access to higher education. In a report to the Commission on the Status of Women in 2009, the government reported that girls and young women are increasingly bearing the responsibility for care in the context of HIV/AIDS in Swaziland, which suggests increasing time poverty amongst girls and young women, compared to their male counterparts.[41] The Central Intelligence Agency reports that Swaziland has a male/female sex ratio for the total population of 0.99.[42] There is no evidence to suggest that Swaziland is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

Restricted Resources and Entitlements

Section 211 of the Constitution provides for equal access to land for men and women. However, this right has not been enshrined in legislation.[43] There are two types of land, Swazi Nation Land Title Deed Land. Although Swazi Nation Land can be accessed free of charge through the traditional kukhonta system from the chief of the area, women cannot independently do so without a male relative.[44] However, United Nations Swaziland reports anecdotal evidence of an emerging practice where some chiefs circumvent the traditional rules and allocate land to women if a male figure is not available.[45] Access to Title Deed Land is also a challenge for women, particularly if they seek to secure bank credit. Even where a woman is ultimately able to secure her husband’s consent and purchase land, if she is married in community of property, she has no legal ownership or control of the property as the land can only be registered under her husband’s name.[46] Section 16 of the Deeds Registry Act precludes women married in community of property from registering title to land.[47] In early 2010, Swaziland’s High Court ruled that some married women should legally be entitled to register property in their own name. This was, however, reversed three months later by the Supreme Court.[48] Women’s access to property other than land is determined by the type of marriage entered into. Current laws require that where a couple of married in a community of property, the husband is automatically the administrator of the joint estate which includes all property.[49] Although the constitution provides for gender equality which should apply to access to credit, in practice women are still denied access to credit.[50] Women’s access to credit is undermined by banks requiring the husband’s permission and lack of collateral collateral due to their lower economic position and discriminatory practices.[51]Despite these challenges, women are the majority of small business holders at 71 %.[52]

Restricted Civil Liberties

Although the Constitution guarantees women’s freedom of movement, discriminatory practices continue to hinder women’s rights in this area. For example, it is reported that Immigration offices continue to require permission from a married woman’s husband to issue passports and travel documents.[53] Further, widows in mourning (for periods that can vary from one to three years) were prevented from appearing in certain public places or in proximity to the King.[54]

With respect to women’s participation in political life, the constitution provides that 5 out of the 10 members of the House of Assembly appointed by the King should be women.[55] The constitution also provides for an additional woman from each of the four regions if women do not constitute a third of the total members, nominated by the elected house members from each region.[56] In 2008, the King appointed only two women in the House of Assembly, instead of the required five.[57] According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, in the 2008 elections, women were elected to only 14 % of House of Assembly positions.[58] Women’s equal right to work and right to equal pay is set out in the Employment Act 1980. The Employment Act also provides for maternity leave between 6 to 12 weeks, however there is no entitlement to paid maternity leave either from the employer or through social security.[59]


References

  1. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html, accessed 9 March 2012.
  2. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html, accessed 9 March 2012.
  3. World Bank (n.d.) Online data: Swaziland, available at http://data.worldbank.org/country/swaziland, accessed at 11 January 2011.
  4. Physicians for Human Rights (2007) Epidemic of Inequality, Women’s Rights and HIV/AIDS in Botswana & Swaziland: An Evidence-Based Report on the Effects of Gender Inequity, Stigma and Discrimination, available at http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/libraryp.75
  5. Physicians for Human Rights (2007) Epidemic of Inequality, Women’s Rights and HIV/AIDS in Botswana & Swaziland: An Evidence-Based Report on the Effects of Gender Inequity, Stigma and Discrimination, available at http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/libraryp.75
  6. United Nations Swaziland (n.d.) United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2011 – 2015 Programme Pillars: Gender, available at http://www.sz.one.un.org/files/UNDAF%20GENDER.pdf, accessed 11 January 2011. p.1
  7. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf, accessed 29 February 2012.p.129
  8. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf, accessed 29 February 2012.p.141
  9. World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2011.pdf, accessed 2 March 2012.
  10. UNFPA (n.d.) Report card: HIV Prevention for Girls and Young Women, Swaziland, available at http://www.unfpa.org/hiv/docs/report-cards/swaziland.pdf, accessed 11 January 2011
  11. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011p.28
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  14. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.28
  15. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008) World Marriage Data 2008, available at http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WMD2008/Main.html, accessed 10 October 2010.
  16. Physicians for Human Rights (2007) Epidemic of Inequality, Women's Rights and HIV/AIDS in Botswana & Swaziland: An Evidence-Based Report on the Effects of Gender Inequity, Stigma and Discrimination, available at http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/report-2007-05-25.html, accessed 20 November 2010.p.75
  17. Demographic Health Survey (2007) Swaziland Demographic and Health Survey 2006-07, available at http://www.measuredhs.com/, accessed 11 January 2011.
  18. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.28
  19. Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (2004) Bringing Equality Home: Promoting and Protecting the Inheritance Rights of Women, A survey of law and practice in Sub-Sahara Africa, available at http://www.cohre.org/sites/default/files/bringing_equality_homp.133
  20. Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (2004) Bringing Equality Home: Promoting and Protecting the Inheritance Rights of Women, A survey of law and practice in Sub-Sahara Africa, available at http://www.cohre.org/sites/default/files/bringing_equality_homp.133
  21. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.29
  22. United Nations Swaziland (n.d.) United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2011 – 2015 Programme Pillars: Gender, available at http://www.sz.one.un.org/files/UNDAF%20GENDER.pdf, accessed 11 January 2011.
  23. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.53
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  25. US State Department (2010) 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Swaziland, Available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/af/135979.htm, accessed 11 January 2011.
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  36. Inter-Parliamentary Union ( n.d.) Parliamentary Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women, Female Genital Mutilation, Legislation and other national provisions, available at http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/fgm-prov-c.htm, accessed 11 January 2011
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  41. Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Swaziland to the United Nations (2009) Statement by H. E. Mr Joel Nhleko, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Swaziland to the United Nations to the 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw53/statements_missions/Swazilan.pdf, accessed 11 January 2011.
  42. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html, accessed 9 March 2012.
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  47. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.25
  48. Action for South Africa (2010) ACTSA Briefing Paper: Swaziland, available at http://www.actsa.org/Pictures/UpImages/pdfs/ACTSA%20Briefing%20Paper%20Swaziland%20Sep%2010%20final.pdf, accessed 11 January 2011.
  49. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.49
  50. UNFPA (n.d.) Report card: HIV Prevention for Girls and Young Women, Swaziland, available at http://www.unfpa.org/hiv/docs/report-cards/swaziland.pdf, accessed 11 January 2011
  51. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.49
  52. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.13
  53. Aphane, D. (2009) Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Baseline Study: Swaziland, available at http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-barometer-baseline-study-swaziland-2009-10-16, accessed 11 January 2011.p.24
  54. US State Department (2010) 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Swaziland, Available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/af/135979.htm, accessed 11 January 2011.
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  58. Inter-Parliamentary Union (2010) http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm
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