(Statement: the Centre for Human Rights and Development, Swaziland, 8 November 2012)
The plight of women in Swaziland is far from over as parliamentarians opposed the protection of women from stalking. Senators were discussing the longstanding Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill of 2000 yesterday. The proposed law seeks to protect among others women from unlawful stalking.
The senators argued that stalking was part of social cultural norms hence proscribing it will violate the culture of Swazis. According to the Times of Swaziland (8 November at page 5) one senator decried the criminalization of forced marriages saying that such custom was more important as it ensured that a girl’s father was able to benefit from his daughter’s marriage since the girl would be given to a man who has cattle to pay lobola.
Culture has continued to be used as a shield to condone the violation of human rights in Swaziland. During this time of the year a group of men identifying themselves as members of the”water party,”( a group of men who are commissioned by royalty to traverse the country ahead of the annual incwala ceremony), go around the country harassing and imposing fine on women who are not properly dressed according to Swazi cultural norms.
This is despite the Constitution guaranteeing the protection of women from deleterious customs. The Swazi Constitution also contains equality and non-discrimination clauses which ought to serve as a yardstick for the treatment of women.
Swaziland is party to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other regional and international human rights instruments having a bearing on women, hence the continued violation of women rights on the basis of culture demonstrates the country’ failure to comply to its international obligations. During Swaziland’s human rights review session in March this year, several recommendations were made regarding the protection of women which Swaziland accepted and undertook to take action. It is disheartening to see parliamentarians openly condoning discriminatory customs as one would have hoped to see positive action being taken to eliminate such practices.
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