Members of the Media,
I am delighted to be here with you today to launch the first in a series of Women’s Conversations, on issues of vital importance to Swati women and communities. I am also pleased to join you in acknowledging women leaders such as our distinguished panelists, during this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence campaign. Like you, I look forward to hearing from them and learning from their enormous depth of expertise.
Eswatini is on a positive path toward improving women’s rights, but more is needed. We must continue to lead the charge, empower women leaders in all sectors, and call for equality in rights and treatment of women across society. The 16 Days of Activism campaign is a time to reflect on successes in the fight for women’s equality. It’s also a time to recalibrate efforts and ignite new momentum for continued positive advancement in policy and social norms, particularly related to the scourge of GBV.
The U.S. Embassy is pleased to work with Nomsa Mbuli, the organizer of today’s program, on this and other projects that address gender-based violence, empower women and girls, and help correct the power imbalance that feeds cycles of abuse and violence. This is all part of our deep commitment to help form a healthy, inclusive Eswatini that values equality, inclusivity, dialogue, and human rights.
We know that gender-based violence is one of the most prevalent human rights abuses in the world, and in Eswatini. We know that women’s rights are human rights. In the wake of civil unrest that has shaken Eswatini to its core, we must keep women’s issues front of mind as we redouble our efforts to heal, create positive change, and solve conflict constructively. What that means is that women must be full and equal participants in national dialogue.
Everyone here is working to break down barriers to women’s equality, counter negative gender stereotypes, chip away at social norms that block women from participating in the economy across a huge range of sectors, and learn how to mentor the next generation of Swati women leaders who will follow in this charge. These are achievable goals, and I am encouraged to see so many people here ready to support them.
We are also here today to talk about current challenges faced by women in all sectors of society. We all know that COVID has had a disproportionate impact on women, who often hold jobs that are more vulnerable to economic shocks and who are already in a weaker social position to challenge abuse and human rights violations. The pandemic has shined a light on areas of inequality long overlooked and it has contributed to a spike in domestic abuse and violence.
We recognize the economic potential of women and the leadership role they can play in economic recovery and growth, and we must be prepared to empower women leaders to invest in their potential and meet that challenge.
One of the ways the U.S. is working to connect women to the economic engine that powers this country is through our Women’s Employment for Economic Recovery, or WEER project. This $1 million project will help emaSwati women access credit, address legal and cultural barriers to economic participation, and develop male allies to bolster and sustain these efforts. This is one of the many ways we are working with Eswatini to help counter the adverse effects of the pandemic in Eswatini, which have severely damaged the economic situation of marginalized groups, particularly women, worsening the power imbalance that feeds gender-based violence.
Swati women have worked tirelessly to shape the economy and society of the country in all spheres. From running their homes while their husbands travelled long distances in search of employment, to influencing policies and shaking foundations, Swati women’s strength and heroism is apparent all around us, in many forms. This must not stop. Everyone here can be a voice that speaks for gender equity in our society. We support one another and build on our individual and collective achievements. This is how we encourage more women to have the courage to take on leadership roles, and this is the goal we all share.
As we have said before, the U.S. urges the government and citizens of Eswatini to approach national dialogue with inclusivity, which means fully including the participation of women. It is often women who lead the charge for human rights, democracy, and justice, including in places where women hold much less than half of the political, economic, and social power. Inclusive, peaceful, and constructive dialogue, that incorporates issues of concern for all emaSwati, including women, youth, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQi community, and others, will help this country move forward and to create opportunity for all.
To all participating today, if you haven’t already, I urge you to act now to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The U.S. has donated hundreds of thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus. Many doses are currently unused, and we urge emaSwati to get vaccinated to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community from the worst effects of COVID-19.
And to the women leaders in this room and listening online – please consider serving as a mentor. Be generous with your time and experience to help guide the next generation in taking on leadership roles. Helping someone else succeed can be immensely gratifying. And if you’re doing it right, mentoring can help you grow as well.
Again, I applaud your work in building a safer, more equitable future for all. Thank you for inspiring and reminding us of the vital importance of women’s issues and for being role models who bring energy to the fight for women’s rights – for the benefit of all of Eswatini.