The status of women in Swaziland is so low that they are practically starved at meal times, according to a report just out.
Women, who under traditional Swazi law are treated as children and are in effect owned by their husbands or fathers, are expected to live lives devoted to their men and families.
A report on the State of the Population in Swaziland says that Swazi women are responsible for childbirth, raising the children and taking care of the entire family.
The report conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA on behalf of the Swaziland Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, said, ‘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 says.
‘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.
I have written before about the depressingly poor status of women in Swaziland, here in no particular order are some recent examples of the way women are treated in Swaziland.
Women are expected to give their husbands sex on demand and those who refuse have been blamed for men who rape children.
During the 2008 Swazi national election, women who campaigned for women to be elected to the House of Assembly were branded ‘evil’ by chiefs.
In a survey 40 percent of men said it was all right to beat women.
Women are denied the right to dress as they please (e.g. wearing pants) by village elders, who then punish the women with fines.
One in three Swazi women has suffered some form of sexual abuse as a child, while one in four experienced physical violence. Often the abusers are the girls’ own fathers or boyfriends.
A 17-year-old woman (described as a ‘minor’) was convicted for committing abortion after her lover, a married man, impregnated her and told her to get rid of it. She represented herself in court and was sentenced to a prison term of two years or an E2 000 fine. The man was not charged.
A spokesperson for the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS) writing in the Times of Swaziland about women who carry condoms said, ‘The greater section of the public thinks it is promiscuous and you will readily be labelled a whore’
A Times columnist writes that rapists were not necessarily beasts as society had labelled them. ‘Most of them were men who had tried to ignore their desires which were fuelled by “half naked women” until such time that it became too much to bear and they raped someone.’
The Times Sunday published an article by one of its regular columnists headlined ‘Sexual harassment: Come on we love it’ which says, ‘Most women just love what is termed sexual harassment, especially in the workplace.’ The article is accompanied by a cartoon of a man touching a woman on her breast.
A fellow ‘blogger’ Sikelela Dlamini has written about how Swaziland’s constitution discriminates against women whose children were born of marriage to non-Swazi males have had their children’s travel documents invalidated because they are not Swazi. Check out what he has to say here.