Gender Equality and Equity

The Government of Swaziland has promulgated and amended a number of important policies, statutes and strategies to protect and promote the rights of women. The Bill of Rights in the Constitution provides for equality before the law and equal opportunities for women and men in political, economic and social spheres. In 2004, the Government ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and it passed the National Gender Policy and Action Plan in 2010. However, the progress of implementation remains slow.

Gender inequality in Swaziland is exacerbated by strong patriarchal traditions, values and norms. Other factors contributing to gender inequality include weak legislation and poor access to means of production, education and health. Evidence shows that a number of socio-cultural and economic factors contributing to increased women and girl’s vulnerability include: gender-based violence; intergenerational sex; early sexual debut and limited employment and economic opportunities. Violence against children continues to be a challenge, particularly within the family environment, and is prevalent in all forms: physical, sexual and emotional abuse. All these factors have the effect of compromising women and girls’ ability to make autonomous decisions in matters affecting their lives and those of their families.

Women’s representation in parliament remains low, for instance in the 2013 Parliamentary elections, only one woman out of a constituency of 55 Tinkhundla was elected. Representation in parliament has been fluctuating from about 8 per cent in the 7th parliament (1998 - 2003) to 20 per cent in the 8th parliament (2003 - 2008) and then declined to about 14.5 per cent in the 9th parliament (2008 - 2013) and a slight decline to 14 per cent in the current parliament (2014 - 2018). Women’s representation in senior government positions including as cabinet ministers, principal secretaries and heads of Government departments and ambassadors also remains low. The pattern is similar in schools and in the justice sector where women only make up 23 per cent of the country’s judges and 37.5 per cent of magistrates.

Violence and abuse are a major development concern in Swaziland, profoundly affecting women and children. Approximately one in three females experienced some form of sexual violence as a child and one in four females experienced physical violence as a child. According to the 2014 MICS, one in five females believes that a husband is justified in beating his wife in certain circumstances.

The legislative framework has been largely aligned with international human rights standards; however, the requisite adjustments in the allocation of resources, standards for services delivery and accountability mechanisms, are lagging behind.