Friday, July 09, 2010

Swaziland: "Because women MPs live comfortable lives, some tend to disassociate with women rights issues"

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

Women MPs Limited by the Patriarchal System

By Mantoe Phakathi

MBABANE, Jul 8, 2010 (IPS) - Minah Ndzinisa spends every day selling fruit and vegetables at the outdoor Mbabane Market, braving the rain, wind and cold for almost 20 years. "I was in the same cold even in the 1990s when we used to have only one woman Member of Parliament."

Ndzinisa regrets that she voted twice for a woman candidate who eventually secured a seat for the second time in the House of Assembly. For her it no longer makes a difference whether her representative from Mbabane East is a man or woman.

"I thought life would improve for poor women like me if a large number of the womenfolk occupied more seats in Parliament," said Ndzinisa. "I was wrong."

The number of women elected to Parliament increased from two in 1998 to seven in 2008. Through a quota system women now occupy 25 percent of the 106 seats in the current Parliament.

But unfortunately, Ndzinisa believes, women in the country are still in the same position they were 20 years ago when there were no women in Parliament. The 47-year-old mother of eight argues that women MPs are failing to advocate for policies and legislation that will help women get out of poverty.

"We need someone who will ensure that the municipal council provides us with shelter as a basic condition for economic empowerment," Ndzinisa said.

Sizakele Hlatshwayo, a gender and development consultant concurred with Ndzinisa adding that women empowerment issues are still raised by men in Parliament despite the growing number of women MPs.

"Save for a few women, most women MPs remain indifferent," said Hlatshwayo.

She said most women MPs do not seem to appreciate their mandate to women because once they are in Parliament, they fail to identify with poor women.

"Because women MPs live comfortable lives, some of them tend to disassociate with women rights issues," said Hlatshwayo.

Women in Law in Southern Africa-Swaziland national coordinator Lomcebo Dlamini acknowledged that the policy and legislation making processes of Swaziland is very problematic because it operates from a system that is patriarchal.

Although Dlamini said women MPs were trying hard to uplift the standard of women in the country, she said they are limited by the patriarchal system in a country where governance is considered a man’s issue.

"We also need to deal with the system because ... the fact that we are using a system where men are the ultimate decision makers is making it difficult for women to make a difference," warned Dlamini.

She observed that the inherent marginalisation of women, even in Parliament, is a result of socialisation where women themselves lack confidence in carrying out their duties as MPs.

Dlamini said some women MPs are out of depth because the legislation making process is very complex and needs a lot of understanding of the technical language yet some of them are not educated or exposed to issues of women’s rights and gender equality.

"Here we’re dealing with issues of low self esteem, lack of confidence, lack of education and socialisation which are some of the things that lead to the marginalisation of women," said Dlamini.

However, chairperson of the Women Parliamentary Caucus Thuli Dladla disputes that women are marginalised in Swaziland. She believes this idea is a foreign concept that does not apply to Swaziland.

Dladla said the reason why Swazi women were not participating in elections was that they lacked confidence and that no one had barred them from politics. "We just need to work on activities that would make women regain self esteem," she said. "We should not use a western tool because people don’t understand it."

By western tool, Dladla was referring to international conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women which Swaziland ratified in 2004.

Dladla said the women’s movement should use language that is in line with the values and traditions of Africa if they want more women to go into Parliament.

The contribution of women MPs is visible during the debates of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, which has since been passed into law, and the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill.

While acknowledging the contribution of women MPs, Dlamini said the fact that Parliament is not legally constituted because Parliament has not adhered to Section 86 of the constitution.

It provides that the House of Assembly should elect four women, one from each region, if women do not make up 30 percent of the House during Parliament’s first meeting. Because in the current Parliament women occupy 25 percent of the seats, four additional women were supposed to be elected in line with the constitution.

Almost two years later after the first meeting of the Ninth Parliament this has not happened.

"Government said there is no space for the four women which I find to be a ridiculous reason because I’ve been to Parliament and I know there are enough seats for four more people," said Dlamini.

She said this showed government’s lack of commitment towards the empowerment of women. Dladla disagreed with Dlamini, arguing that the country is still grappling with the constitution adopted in 2005.

"Many countries in the world have not met the required number of women representation in Parliament," said Dladla.

The election of the women is at the hands of the Elections and Boundaries Commission and its chairperson Chief Gija Dlamini said they are still working on it. He had said the same thing a year ago about the same issue.