The following, which analyses the rights of women in Swaziland in light of the 2010 court case involving Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane and property registration, is taken from the Open Society Foundations blog.
Fighting for Women’s Rights in Swaziland
January 26, 2011 | by Richard Lee
On paper Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, seems willing to respect and uphold women’s rights. The country is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and its 2005 constitution clearly embraces equality for all before the law. In practice, however, things are very different.
Social, cultural, and patriarchal norms in both common law and customs serve to subordinate Swazi women. They are discriminated against from a very young age and enjoy limited participation in economic and public life.
In 2008, Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane discovered the gaping discrepancy between constitutional rhetoric and current reality when she tried to register property in both her and her husband’s names. Common law held that a wife is legally classified as a minor and therefore her husband is the sole administrator of their joint estate.
Aphane took her case to the High Court of Swaziland and won. The court found that Swazi women married in community of property have the right to register property in their own names as well as their husbands. But her victory was short-lived. In May 2010, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling.
There is still hope for change. The Supreme Court upheld the spirit of the ruling. Although a minor victory, this could mark a major turning point in the long battle for Swazi women’s equality.
The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) supported the case and is working to reinvigorate women’s movements in Swaziland—particularly by developing young female leaders—so that they can advocate more effectively for women’s rights and campaign more successfully to bridge the gap between all the rights that exist on paper and the few that exist in practice.
View a full analysis of the decision in Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane v. The Register of Deeds on the OSISA website.