Remarks by Ambassador Maloney: One Billion Rising Eswatini Grassroots Women Convention

February 19, 2022
Hon Deputy Prime Minister
EU Ambassador
Program Director,
Panelists,
Distinguished guests,
Members of the Media,
All Protocols observed.

Sanibonani.

What a pleasure to join you here today! This event is an inspirational reminder of what we can all achieve together when we harness the potential of women and community leaders to drive change at the grassroots level. Today is a day to acknowledge how gender issues impact all aspects of women’s and girl’s lives, how troubling and pervasive gender-based violence remains, and what we can do about it.

Women have worked tirelessly to shape society of this country in all spheres, and nowhere more so than at the community level. The spirit and heroism of rural Swati women is apparent all around us, in many forms. Day-to-day activities like running households, caring for sick family members, and ensuring children spend their days in school are no small feat. In everything you do, organizing yourselves and working together, for your families and your communities, you weave the social fabric that shapes society and builds the foundation on which social change is possible. Everyone here can be a voice that speaks for gender equity in our society.

We are also here today to talk about challenges faced by women in all sectors of society. We know that gender-based violence is one of the most prevalent human rights abuses in the world, including here. We feel the increase in gender-based violence around us, we grieve for the victims and their families, and we call for justice and an end to violence. We must change the fundamental attitudes that perpetuate, rationalize, and normalize that violence. Parents, leaders, and role models can help by teaching children and modeling behaviors that resolve conflict effectively, not through hitting or physical force, but through words and using respect, tolerance. Girls and boys deserve to live their lives unburdened of stereotypes and societal barriers.

Our work with One Billion Rising and other women’s organizations empowers communities and young people to respect one another as individuals, and to help build a generation that rejects violence. Men and women – young and old – must play a role in addressing the underlying power imbalance that feeds gender-based violence.

Today’s event offers an opportunity to lift the voices of women, men, and young people to make a difference in the fight against gender-based violence, and to address violence, in all its forms. We know that women were disproportionately impacted by the COVID pandemic and by last July’s civil unrest.

We have an opportunity right now, in this moment, to redirect our focus and place women’s issues front of mind as emaSwati redouble their efforts to heal, create positive change, and solve conflict constructively. Women, women’s groups, and women’s advocates must be active participants in national dialogue. Women’s issues should not be a box to tick in this process, nor a token gesture. We urge the government and citizens of Eswatini to approach national dialogue with inclusivity, which means including the issues of half the population—women—in any dialogue. Inclusive, peaceful, and constructive dialogue on issues of concern to all emaSwati will help this country move forward and heal.

Further, we all know that Eswatini is facing a youth bulge and a fiscal crisis—particularly now following the economic shocks wrought by the pandemic. In the most recent Afrobarometer survey, Swati respondents pointed to three major areas of major national concern: unemployment, education, and infrastructure—all of which directly touch on the quality of life of young people.

Just as we recognize the economic potential of women and the leadership role they can play in economic recovery and growth, we must recognize the imperative of empowering young people, especially young women, so they can grow up to be part of the solution. I commend the group of adolescent and young women who just delivered a communique on their views and hopes for the future. And I want to acknowledge the artistic creations around me, which are also representative of the youth. Your energy and passion are needed, and we must be prepared to empower young women leaders and to invest in their potential to confront challenges of the future.

I note with appreciation the many mentions of mentorship I’ve been hearing at today’s event. The power of mentorship to inspire and uplift the next generation is impossible to overstate. To the leaders here today: Please be a mentor. Find and develop new abilities in the next generation of young women and girls, and guide them through the different steps they need to take to grow into their roles. Share your knowledge and your courage, and be the spark that ignites the flames of hope and possibility.

To the young people here: Please be inquisitive, seek and receive guidance broadly. You are the future of our world and we want you to be successful and avoid mistakes we’ve made in the past.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to speak with you all. Thank you to the organizers and to the courageous voices here today, for reminding us of the vital importance of women’s issues and for being role models that bring energy to the fight for women’s rights for the benefit of all of Eswatini.

Siyabonga.