Swazi single mothers: do not ostracize us
Stiffkitten blog / Peter Kenworthy November 13, 2012
“We believe that those who find themselves involuntarily having children should not be rejected and banned from their community. Swaziland Single Mothers’ Organization (SWASMO) is working hard to ensure that young single women are considered in Swaziland,” SWASMO said in their annual statement last week.
SWASMO is a membership-based Swazi NGO that amongst other things organizes projects and self-help groups that promote self-reliance, mutual support, mobilisation and education to try and improve the position and consciousness of single mothers by mobilising and educating poor single mothers in Swaziland. SWASMO is planning to expand both their outreach and projects.
“The fact is that SWASMO is the only organisation taking care of young single mothers and their children,” says Project Coordinator and founder of SWASMO, Beatrice Bitchong. “But we have begun giving talks on the radio to promote a supportive attitude from parents. We are also planning a march on the 8th March 2013 with the aim of sensitizing people about the problems of young single mothers. And we are planning a day care project where their children could have good meals and be well looked after.”
Church organisations from Canada and the USA have recently donated materials to SWASMO’s projects. “But we are interested in other donors who can help Swaziland’s young single mothers. They need it more than most,” says Beatrice Bitchong.
Women in Swaziland are generally heavily discriminated against. In Swazi customary law, women in effect have the status of minors and cannot get a bank loan without the consent of their husbands. Women can also be fined for wearing trousers by traditional authorities.
But young single mothers are even worse off than other women in Swaziland. Over a third of all pregnancies in Swaziland are teenage pregnancies. But teenage mothers receive little or no help from the government, their families or communities. On the contrary, when they are found to be pregnant they are often ostracised and stigmatised by their neighbours, communities and families.
“Swazi single mothers get no support from the government, they get expelled from their schools, and are rejected by their communities,” says Beatrice Bitchong. “Some young women even find it difficult to run their small businesses in their communities because of stigmatisation. People in the communities also label them as being ‘naughty, lazy, prostitutes’ and if they are beaten by their boyfriends the community police do little to help them. Their children are labelled as bastards and looked down upon.”
Swaziland’s conservative and patriarchal culture is thus used to condone widespread violation of women’s rights in Swaziland, even though Swaziland has signed the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Swaziland’s Constitution guarantees women the right to equal treatment with men – politically, economically and socially.
Wednesday’s debate in Swaziland’s parliament was a case in point. Here Swazi senators complained about the criminalization of forced marriages and opposed the protection of women from stalking.