Human Rights Commission Rep
Umhluma Executive Director and Board Members
Program Facilitators – Ms. Dlamini and Mr. Simelane
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All Protocols Observed
Thank you for inviting me to close this important training event, which is calling attention to and raising awareness about the plight of widow’s rights and women’s rights in Eswatini. Hopefully, this workshop has equipped you with knowledge and skills that will not only empower you to make change, but will help chart the way forward for a new era of equal rights and protections for all women.
You have all witnessed the discriminatory practices that put women at a disadvantage for land, employment, and leadership opportunities, particularly following the death of their husbands, and sometimes for years at a time. It’s time to shine a light on the status and plight of widows, and all women, in Eswatini, and to take concrete steps to uphold their rights under law. We must treat widows as full legal citizens, uphold inheritance rights, allow them to own land and give them consistent access to justice so they can fight for rights when they have been denied.
The constitution of Eswatini states that it is the “supreme law of Swaziland and if any other law is inconsistent with this Constitution that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.” This is a direct quote from Section 2.1. This means that both customary and general law are subordinate to the constitution and must comply with its provisions. Your role as paralegals is to make other women and people in leadership positions aware that customary law and practices can only be valid if they align with the provisions of the constitution. The constitution requires entities to observe the principles of equality and non-discrimination in all aspects, including in relation to customary land rights.
Change is not easy, and it comes incrementally. Small steps at community level are powerful, and they build to something bigger. Change requires women themselves be proactive, and take positive actions to promote and protect their own rights. And to do that they need to be aware of those rights. Your role is to take what you learned here in this workshop and pass on the light of knowledge. Educate other women on their constitutional, customary, and formal legal rights. In so doing, you will be helping them identify opportunities to assert their rights, either by strengthening existing customary practices that are harmful; or by identifying the gaps that enable the continuation of discriminatory practices; or by seeking redress for violations through the justice delivery system.
In Swazi culture, some women hold senior and influential positions in families (albeit still viewed as below the males of the family). These influential women are Gogos, bomaketala, bo-antie, and emakhosatana. They are in good positions to influence family decisions, particularly where there are no other males relative due to death, incapacity or youth. You can assist them to use these roles to protect their and other women within the families’ rights to customary land.
I also encourage you to continue with the exemplary conversations that Umhluma has already started in some communities, and expand them. Continue to question and call to attention the protective role that the family is supposed to play; teach colleagues and community members that violating of women’s land rights harms, rather than protects, them. You can help families and individuals see what they can do to strengthen this protection. Conduct community dialogues to talk about these rights, and include everyone—men, women, young people. The impacts of discrimination affect everyone in a family, in a community, so be inclusive with these dialogues.
Also, feel empowered to engage traditional authorities. Have conversations with them on customary norms and practices that need to be updated to align with fundamental land tenure rights for widows. They are regarded as “custodians” of culture at the local level and are responsible for its enforcement, so the weight of their leadership status can be used to enact positive change.
We all know that since some traditional authorities are progressive and ready to support common sense reforms. They appreciate the positive impact of protecting women’s rights in general, and women’s land rights in particular. With a little encouragement, they could be willing to use their voices to share experiences and influence their peers, others who are in positions of authority and who resist change.
Finally, the important role of the legislature cannot be overemphasized in promoting women’s customary land rights. There are several constitutional provisions that would be of great practical benefit to women if they were incorporated into law, including amendments to marriage and inheritance laws, which have a significant impact on women’s property rights. Law reform is long overdue – the constitution has been operational since February 2006 and there has been limited legal reform to comply with its principles. Many of the meaningful reforms we have seen over the last 15 years have been through court decisions and not legislative efforts. Please lobby your members of parliament to initiate the bills that will address the gaps.
I also encourage you to keep in touch with the contacts and relationships you have made here. Look around the room. This is your support network. Be each other’s guides and mentors. Build and nurture these relationships, which can grow, create even more awareness and capacitate other members of your communities and beyond with the knowledge you now have.
We are proud to invest in the future of emaSwati by addressing inequality faced women, and by the same token we must also work together to help Eswatini heal from the recent civil unrest. As we look to the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to communicate details on the dialogue, and develop a process that will promote healing and progress, I urge everyone in this room to raise your voice and insist that women are at the table and fully participating. This is a moment of historic importance in Eswatini, and it is too important for women to be left to the side.
Finally, to Umhluma Foundation, thank you for your dogged work to bring these issues to the forefront, and for your continuous efforts to engage leaders, communities, and individuals and teach them about the rights that women—including widows—have. We applaud your work and your unwavering commitment to addressing the plight of widows. With your help, I am confident that we can and will build a future that is more equitable and just for generations to come.
Also, one final appeal to everyone here today: please take your COVID-19 jab if you haven’t already and encourage people around you to do the same. It’s free and available right now! Please be part of the solution and help protect yourselves, your loved ones, and your communities from the worst effects of this disease.
And with that, I would like to declare this workshop officially closed. Congratulations and Siyabonga!