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Tuesday, 13 May 2008

SWAZI WOMEN DENIED RIGHTS

I’m glad to see that the Swazi Observer newspaper is giving us more reports from the rural areas.

Readers can learn so much about what life is really like in Swaziland from such reports in the Swazi media.

There was a good example of this in a report in the Observer on Friday (9 May 2008) which showed how women in the kingdom are discriminated against.

A report headlined Women charged with wearing pants told how three women in Dvokolwako had been summoned by ‘traditional authorities’ for wearing pants (trousers) after elders in the area had banned them.

One women told how someone reported her after she was spotted wearing jeans as she was walking to the shops. Another woman was said to be wearing pants at her home when she was charged.

One woman was reported by the Observer saying that leaders barred women from wearing pants because it was against culture.

The Observer added, ‘She viewed culture as a mechanism that is sometimes used to oppress people, especially women. She said culture should be dynamic and change with time.’

Another woman from the same community who was found wearing pants said she would not stop wearing them

‘I do not see any harm in wearing my jeans since I feel it is better than wearing mini skirts,’ the Observer reported her saying.

Parents, interviewed by the Observer said their children were being abused.

‘They said the elders should accept that this was another era in life where young people needed to live their lives differently from the time of their ancestors,’ the Observer reported.

Another mother told the Observer that her children would go on wearing pants and there was nothing she could do about it.

‘It means we will pay fines every single day because our children continue wearing pants even if they are warned against it,’ she told the Observer.

Unfortunately, the Observer reporter left it there. It would have been useful to the newspaper’s readers to have the dispute put into some context. After all, we know that under ‘traditional’ or ‘cultural’ law women are treated as children and are in effect ‘owned’ by their men (most obviously their husbands and fathers).

When we talk of ‘human rights’ for women we usually talk about major influences on a woman’s life, for example, the right to contraception and determination over their own bodies and the right to political, social and economic independence. But in Swaziland rural women have no rights at all. As the Observer report shows they don’t even have the right to decide which clothes to wear.

Not only have the elders of Dvokolwako denied these woman their human rights, more specifically they have denied them their rights under the Swaziland Constitution. Section 29 (3) states, ‘a woman shall not be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom to which she is in conscience opposed’.

The three women of Dvokolwako want to wear pants. The Constituion protects that wish and the elders are acting illegally in making the women stop.

So, thank you Observer for bringing this situation to our attention, but now please campaign on behalf of all Swazis to ensure that the new Swazi Constitution is upheld by everybody in the kingdom.

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