LIFE AS A WOMAN IN SWAZILAND - WOMEN THOU ART CHAINED
It’s another good week ladies and gentlemen. I hope I find you well. Here I come again with Swaziland and her stories. This is beautiful country with very nice natural terrain, mountainous, with a good sunny weather. In all fairness Swaziland is a beautiful country which is marred by “its polygamous men and “woman unfriendly” cultural practices which seek to put women under the feet of anyone in a pair of pants, called “man”. Personally, I have a problem with the idea of women being made into dear of women being made into door mats by the very men they call their husbands. I actually distaste it with a passion.
The most disturbing thing is that some women seem to be comfortable in such a set up. Culturally, in Swaziland they say that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and that a woman is not supposed to raise her voice or to even stand up against a man’s oppressive treatment let alone look him in the eye when talking to him. I believe that when two people are married they are one flesh and the stronger, which is the man (physically), should support the weaker which is the woman and not suppress the woman’s voice for the sake of dominance. They say that looking at a man in the eye is a sign of disrespect, so it is taboo. What the hell is this? How can I talk to my better-half without looking at him in the eye?
The other issue is of men who beat women or wives in their homes. Men and society believe that it is normal for a husband to beat his wife as it is a sign of love. Funny enough even some women agree to this crazy notion. Last Sunday I woke up to this shocking story in the local Sunday paper and the headline boldly screamed “YES OUR HUSBANDS MAY BEAT US”. I thought to myself, by God what’s going on in these women’s heads? Is it because they are desperate for a man in their lives or they need a male support at whatever cost even if it meant losing one’s self esteem and independence for the sake of love.
What is love? This four letter word is just too difficult to define and some weird definitions come up by the day. Most of the times I wish all the women folk know the song from the late Bob Marley…”Redemption Song” which goes…….emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…….. I think we have to emancipate and liberate ourselves from men slavery, as women in Swaziland because if we fail to stand up no man can come up and say let’s give the women space to flourish and freedom to exercise their rights. Laws might be passed in parliament but one would find that the very oppressors are the majority in that parliament. Even if laws are put up no one will make an effort to follow them except if the women stand up. Even cases of domestic violence are given menial attention at the local courts and in some cases they are solved at village level where the chiefs and village elders preside over the issues. At the end of the day the perpetrators are never dealt with accordingly.
In the story in the Sunday paper some women interviewed condone wife beating. This is quite disturbing that some women could accept violence as normal or forming part of a relationship. Swazi society had been socialized in such a way that females were supposed to be submissive to males and should endure abuse and be tolerant to marital problems, which is associated with culture. Women or men who condone the beating are a product of that socialization. According to statistics of a survey carried out by the Swaziland Central Statistics Office (SCO) women between the ages of 15 to 45 years condone such practices. This issue, disturbing as it is, reflects an endorsement of women’s lower status compared to men. Five situations were cited, for being reasons of justification for a man to beat a wife or partner (i.e. live in). These are:
• If the woman burns the food
• If she goes out without telling him
• If she refuses to have sex with him
• If she has sex with another man
• If she argues with him
The report said that 4 out of 10 women believed that a man is justified to beat a woman because of the above. As a head of the household, a man is traditionally an important figure in Swazi family life, hence a woman who argues with her husband is considered disrespectful. This wife beating issue and it’s tolerance among women, is tolerated especially by younger women and those women with no children. Looking at this kind of scenario, one would wonder what makes them tolerate such. Is it because they don’t have the backbone to stand on their own or it’s something else to do with the status…. “Being married or having a man in your life or something else which I’m yet to find out”. You will find that such women would also tolerate their husband openly having an affair with another woman and would even allow him to come and sleep with the woman in their marital home. For those who are working and own cars, the husband would be the one driving her car and going out with the other women and the wife will be aware of that. Such women are quick to defend their husbands’ shenanigans and claim that after all women are more than men so there’s no need to be selfish with your men. I wonder what their men would have done to them to be so submissive to such an extent, is it voodoo or what? If one looks at the HIV/AIDS statistics in this country one would shudder to think of such a behavior going on. Even the statement used in AIDS awareness campaigns which advocate for “one steady partner or one-man one woman”, sounds like a nursery school lullaby.
Women who are separated, divorced, educated or employed are less likely to allow the beating. Educated women are somewhat enlightened about their rights as compared to uneducated rural women. The same applies to educated employed men in urban areas. Some of them understand the wrongs of wife beating as compared to uneducated, unemployed rural men. Poor rural men with limited education are more likely to engage in wife beating.
Though Swaziland is traditionally a polygamous nation what people here should realize is that culture is dynamic. What used to work in the Stone Age can not be applied now in the age of technology and equal rights. Some cultural practices need to be discouraged as they are abusive to women and are definitively no longer relevant in today’s world.