Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Violence Against Women & Girls On The Increase In Swaziland

As Swaziland launched it's annual campaign of "16 Days Of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence" on 25th November 2011, it is quite discouraging to learn that violence against women and girls is on the increase in the Kingdom.  Statistics say that 13 cases of violence against women and girls are reported each week in a country of 1.2 million people.

The observations by the NGO Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGGA) is that the increase can be attributed to the fact that Swaziland is generally becoming a more violent society and that previously cases of abuse and violence were under-reported.  Another major stumbling-block is that the law in Swaziland has not caught up to international standards in terms of defining abuse and also criminalising some acts of violence.  Hlobisile Dlamini-Shongwe of SWAGGA says

"There are number of loopholes regarding laws on violence in the country. Currently we have rape defined by the law as an unlawful sexual encounter with a woman and this leaves out boys who have been sodomised. We have a law dating back to 1920 where a case of a woman who has been battered by her husband is considered common assault which is a very minor offence.

Given the rate at which such cases happen, we feel they should be moved to a higher level. According to the law, a child's statement is not enough evidence in cases of rape, there must be an adult who has witnessed this act. We feel a child's statement is enough to convict a perpetrator.

In the era of HIV/AIDS, there is still no law in Swaziland that deals with marital rape yet we know that it's difficult for women to negotiate for safe sex yet there is no law which a woman would use against her husband who has raped her. This makes women to be even more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS."

In a society characterised by high unemployment, poverty and high prevalence of HIV, social depression is one way to explain the increase in violence against women and girls.  It is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of people are unwilling to take a stand against social issues as they spill over to a political domain, which many Swazis are not willing to be seen to take a stand against.  Though Swaziland has finally approved the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill in October 2011, enforcement will be the challenge as those meant to enforce the law still hold patriarchal views that have existed for centuries that tend to safeguard those committing violence against women and girls.

Hlobisile continues to say 
"There is a strong link between gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. In all the eight years that I've worked for SWAGAA I've never come across a rape case where the perpetrator has used a condom. Most women are physically abused and they fail to negotiate for safe sex and, what's worse, marital rape is not a crime in Swaziland."

 The problem of gender violence has to be dealt with in conjunction with gender equality.  In a society where women have no voice and no power, it is important that as Swaziland inevitably moves towards a democracy it ensures that it creates an engendered society that will ensure women are empowered and protected by law.

A key element for the success of bringing gender equality in Swaziland is to implement gender mainstreaming so that issues of gender equality are always an issue.  Gender mainstreaming is defined as 
 "Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality."

Basic Principles of Mainstreaming
Responsibility for implementing the mainstreaming strategy is system-wide, and rests at the highest levels within agencies, according to Carolyn Hannan, Director of the UN Division for the Advancement of Women. Other principles include:
• Adequate accountability mechanisms for monitoring progress need to be established.
• The initial identification of issues and problems across all area(s) of activity should be such that gender differences and disparities can be diagnosed.
• Assumptions that issues or problems are neutral from a gender-equality perspective should never be made.
• Gender analysis should always be carried out.
• Clear political will and allocation of adequate resources for mainstreaming, including additional financial and human resources if necessary, are important for translation of the concept into practice.
• Gender mainstreaming requires that efforts be made to broaden women's equitable participation at all levels of decision-making.
• Mainstreaming does not replace the need for targeted, women-specific policies and programmes, and positive legislation; nor does it do away with the need for gender units or focal points.