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Sunday, 28 November 2010


Women’s organisations in Swaziland are fighting to reform laws that treat women as second class citizens in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

According to a report from Amnesty International, just released, the Swazi Government has failed to change these laws, despite repeatedly promising to do so.

This means that women in Swaziland are not protected by law and face discrimination that is permitted by law.

The report called Too Little, Too Late states that women and girls have no legal protection from rape by their husbands and there are no laws criminalising domestic violence, forced marriages or early marriages.

Most married women are denied equal status as legal adults and cannot administer property, sign contracts or conduct legal proceedings without their husband’s consent. Denied the right to own land, many widows are forced from their homes.

Amnesty says that in a breakthrough in the fight for equality, Swaziland agreed in 2004 to be bound by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – the key international treaty on women’s human rights.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland was enacted in the following year. For the first time, national law guaranteed to women the right to equal treatment with men and some protection from being ‘compelled to undergo or uphold any custom to which [they are] in conscience opposed’.

However, the laws that govern the daily lives of Swazi men and women have not been brought into line with CEDAW or the Constitution and leave Swaziland ‘in flagrant violation of its international commitments to women’s rights’.

More than half a decade after ratifying CEDAW and adopting a new Constitution, official steps to reform the laws affecting women’s rights have achieved very little.

The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence bill was only introduced in Parliament for full debate on 28 October 2010. This is despite the active lobbying by women’s rights activists and other interested parties, including Amnesty International, since 2005.

Civil society organizations have attended meetings to discuss other draft bills but the law reform process appears to have stalled.

In March 2009, the then Minister of Justice, in a meeting with Amnesty International, referred to an ambitious legislative programme to protect and promote women’s rights and stated that several other bills would be tabled in parliament by the end of that year. As of November 2010 this had still not happened.

The delay in the law reform process cannot be blamed on lack of resources. The European Commission, the Commonwealth Secretariat and UN agencies have all supported the reform process by providing legislative drafters, research assistance and funding. The rapid passing of antitrafficking legislation in 2009, under external pressure from the United States, highlights what can be achieved with sufficient political will.

Amnesty is calling on people to protest to the Swaziland Government. For details of where to send protests click here and go to page 8.

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