Swaziland’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) is denying women access to its offices if they wear trousers.
And women who are in mourning are also barred.
As Swaziland claims to be close to becoming a ‘First World’ nation, it is revealed today (6 January 2011) that the main body set up to support human rights in the kingdom doesn’t understand the first concept about them.
Women in trousers (pants) and those in mourning are barred because they violate Swazi traditional law and custom: even though Section 28 (1) of the Swaziland Constitution says, ‘women shall have equal opportunities as men in political, economic and social activities.’ The constitution also expressly gives women the right to ignore Swazi law and custom if they wish, but the HRC denies them their constitutional rights.
Keen observers of Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will know that the ruling elite disregard the constitution whenever it likes. King Mswati also tries to curry favour with the international community by pretending that it a ‘democratic’ nation. The king and his hangers-on like to claim Swaziland’s has a ‘unique’ democracy, although in practice this means elections are bogus, political parties are banned, and traditional custom takes precedence over constitutional law.
Now, the HRC is exposed as a sham.
The Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) Swaziland chapter has complained about the ban at the Nkanini national offices where, as with royal residences, women in mourning gowns and in trousers cannot enter the premises.
David Matse, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs told the Times of Swaziland, the only independent newspaper in the kingdom, that the matter was of primary importance to him and would address it as soon as possible.
But instead of instructing the HRC to immediately lift its ban on women, Matse, himself a former Chairperson of the HRC, said ‘Human rights are a vital issue and we are working on it to ensure that visitors who cannot access the Nkanini offices, for whatever reason, are accommodated elsewhere, particularly in town.’
Lomcebo Dlamini, speaking on behalf of WLSA, told the Times, ‘Right now the perception, because of where they are situated, is that they are not totally independent because some people could have reservations about going there.’
Dlamini said the Commission should be located at a place where all people would feel safe and not fear to report cases.
On the issue of trousers, Dlamini said it was ridiculous that in 2011 there were certain places, in particular courts and Parliament, where women could not enter because they were wearing pants.
I have written before about how Swazi women are unable to get their rights. Last week I reported on the High Court where a judge ruled that women were the property of their fathers for life. Last month (December 2010), I reported how a woman was stripped in public on the orders of a chief because she was wearing trousers.