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Sunday, 1 June 2008

SHOCKING LIVES FOR SWAZI WOMEN

Forty percent of men in Swaziland say it is all right to beat their women.

This news, rightly described as ‘shocking’ by the Times of Swaziland (30 May 2008), is just one of the results of research undertaken in Swaziland and published last week.

We already know that women in Swaziland are treated as second-class citizens and in traditional custom and law they are in effect owned by their men (usually their husbands or fathers), but the results of the National Demographic and Health Survey, conducted for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, highlight just how bad it is for women.

Here are some of the results of the survey:

- Most men and women believe that women cannot negotiate with their husbands to have safer sex.
- Women do not have power to make household decisions and they are most likely to have control over daily household purchases.
- Husbands often have the final say over visits to family or relatives and larger household purchases.


According to the Times, the survey also noted that among the Swazi population who are employed, men are slightly more likely to earn cash while women are more prone to be underpaid. Women who earn cash generally earn less than their husbands.

It is sexual activity that commands most attention in the survey. Swazi women get married at what is described as ‘a relatively late age’, as 26 percent are married by age 20.

- Three in 10 women were sexually active by the age of 18.
- HIV prevalence is high in all regions of Swaziland among people aged 15-49. It is believed to affect 29 percent of people in this age range in the Hhohho region.
- Widows, divorced or separated women are most affected by HIV, nearly 56 percent of widowed men and 68 percent of widowed women are HIV positive.
- Almost 90 percent of adults know where to get male condoms, but half of women and a quarter of men know where to get female condoms.
- About a quarter of married women are not using contraceptives, even though they do not want to have children.
- At least 37 percent of births are unwanted.
- Four percent of women give birth with no assistance from medical facilities.



The survey also reveals that 80 percent of Swazi males and 60 percent of women refuse to be tested for HIV. It is now estimated that 200,000 people (of a population of less than one million) are HIV positive in Swaziland.

According to the Times, at the survey’s launch, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare Njabulo Mabuza, said the report indicated where ‘positive strides have been made and where extra effort is needed’.

I see precious few ‘strides’. Mabuza has been under attack for mismanagement at his ministry on just about every front possible in the past two years. On HIV AIDS alone the incompetence is there for all to see. The Weekend Observer (12 April 2008) reported the Swaziland Prime Minister Themba Dlamini saying his government was embarrassed that it had not utilised the E36 million (about 5.1 million US Dollars) that it had itself earmarked to spend on HIV AIDs drugs. At the same time as it failed to spend this money, the government was asking foreign institutions for cash to help in the fight against AIDS. (Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world).

And where might we put the ‘extra effort’? Kicking Prime Minister Dlamini and Heath Minister Mabuza out of office would be a positive start.

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