A Bill has been tabled in the Swaziland parliament to ensure 30 percent of members of the House of Assembly are women. It has taken 12 years to get this far.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The King chooses 10 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly and 10 members of the 30-strong Senate. Members of the House of Assembly choose the other 20.
The Constitution that came into effect in 2006 requires five women to be elected to the Senate by the House and the King to choose another eight. There have been two national elections since the Constitution came into effect and the required number of women members of parliament has not been met.
On representation in the House of Assembly, the Constitution states, ‘The nominated members of the House shall be appointed by the King so that at least half of them are women.’
It also requires there are four female members specially elected from the four regions of Swaziland.
At the last election in 2013 only one woman, Mbabane East MP Esther Dlamini, was elected to the House of Assembly. The King appointed only three women and no women were elected from the four regions.
Following the elections, the King filled five of the eight designated seats in the Senate with women, while the House of Assembly named five women to the Senate.
The Election of Women Members to the House of Assembly Bill was tabled in the House of Assembly in early April 2018. It is reported that it should become law before the next national election takes place at a date in 2018 yet to be set by the King.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Monday (23 April 2018) that the Bill will force the House of Assembly to elect four women into it, with one woman coming from each region. This will only happen if that number has not been elected by the voting public.
The Bill also sets out a procedure for selecting the women members. It makes no reference to the selection of Senate members.
The move to pass a Bill comes after the King directed parliament to create a legal tool for the election of women.
Women have always been under-represented in Swazi parliaments. Generally, in traditional Swazi culture women are treated as minors under the control of their husbands, fathers or family members.
The percentage of House of Assembly candidates who were women at the 2008 election was 24 percent. The figure fell to 17 percent for the 2013 election.
In a voter education meeting in 2017 held to sensitise chiefs in the kingdom about the 2018 election the Elections and Boundaries Commission was warned not to encourage the electorate to vote for women for gender-balance reasons.
The Swazi Observer reported at the time Chief Mdlaka Gamedze, said the call by many organisations to vote for women may lead to interference with the people’s choices.
It reported, ‘Instead, Gamedze urged the EBC team to encourage the freedom to nominate or elect any member of the society without considering whether it is a male or female.’
It added, ‘Gamedze said the electorate must be free to vote for candidates who they deem fit to develop their constituencies.’
At the same meeting the Observer reported, ‘Chief Mvimbi Matse reported that some women were denied the opportunity to contest for the elections by their husbands. Matse said there have been instances where women were nominated during the first stage but later withdrew after their husbands instructed them to do so.’
That problem was echoed by women at a voter education meeting at KaGucuka in July 2017. They said some women in Swaziland were too scared to stand as candidates because their husbands would be angry and even disown them.
During the 2008 Swazi national election, women who campaigned for women to be elected to the House of Assembly were branded ‘evil’ by chiefs.
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