Vote For Women

The following is from Andrea Wilkinson’s travel blog.

Well after a long four-month process, the final results of Swaziland’s elections were announced and it seems the Vote for Women campaign has had little success.

You may remember Tholiwe Tsela from my previous blogs. (Revisit ‘Shining a Light on Swaziland Struggles to refresh your memory.) Tholiwe was only one of 19 women out of 175 chiefdoms to make it through to the secondary level of elections.

Still, she has been unsuccessful in her dream (and fight) to make it as a female MP.

Unfortunately she may see this as the end of the road in her crusade to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and encouragement of female empowerment across the kingdom.

You see, there has been a significant need for gender empowerment in Swaziland for many years, and still little progress has been made.

For instance, Swaziland is currently the only Southern African country that has not endorsed the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Lomcebo Dlamini from the WLSA (Women and Law in South Africa) group states: “We currently have five women MPs out of 65 overall. It has been reported that many women standing for election have been threatened and intimidated.

“We are still awaiting the results of one of the constituencies to be released this coming weekend, which could bring us up to seven.”

This is still a long way off the minimum 30%.

Of course, the election system simply scratches the surface of the inequalities between men and women.

Women are at a significant disadvantage in daily living overall.

The female illiteracy rate is high because of the traditional belief that women belong in the home.
And despite the government taking measures to meet the 30% female representation in parliament, women’s participation is sometimes viewed as a token gesture rather than a sign of their credibility.

The truth is, women have very little power or status in Swazi society. How can they when they are unable to own their own house or access credit?

Even more unimaginable is that they are still subject to traditional customary practises such as widow inheritance (where if a woman’s husband dies, she is ‘inherited’ by his brother or another male family member.)

Even if we take gender equality out of the equation, it is still very hard, if nigh on impossible, to state that these were free and fair elections.

For a start, political parties were not permitted to contest the current state of affairs.

This restriction – as stated by the Pan African Parliament – places infringements on the rights of those people wanting to take part in elections and is nowhere near any type of democracy.

It is paramount that Swazi Law and customs should be subject to standards as in any lawful society.

Some would say this should include abolishing customary practices that undermine the dignity of women, which many believe may be found in the darker, more serious side to the Annual Reed Dance.

Diane Mariechild said: “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”

This should be recognised throughout the world, because surely all women should have the right to live in dignity, in freedom from want and freedom from fear.

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