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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF SWAZILAND

10 July 2014

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined initial and second periodic reports of Swaziland on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report of Swaziland, Khangeziwe Mabuza, Permanent Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, said that after acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2004, Swaziland had adopted a Constitution that contained a dedicated chapter on the promotion and protection of women and children’s rights and tried to bridge the gap between customary and civil law.  Ms. Mabuza said that the escalating violence against women and in particular domestic violence was an issue of great concern and that the Government aimed to halve the incidence of domestic violence by 2018.  The Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill had been passed by the outgoing Parliament in 2013, but the Bill had not been enacted yet.

Noting the 2007 United Nations Children Fund study which found that one in three young women experienced some form of sexual violence during her childhood, the Committee Experts expressed great concern about the magnitude of violence against women and children in Swaziland; measures taken so far were insufficient to protect women and girls from the alarming prevalence of sexual violence, which primarily occurred at home.  Experts noted that the duality of laws and patriarchal values condoned practices discriminatory towards women, and that the legal framework which considered women as legal minors denied them equal and free access to justice, particularly in civil matters.  In 2012, one in four adults lived with HIV and Swaziland had the highest HIV prevalence in the world at 26 per cent, with higher prevalence rates for women than men.

The delegation of Swaziland included representatives of the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Swaziland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Ms. Mabuza, in her concluding remarks, said that Swaziland needed financial and technical support to formalize and strengthen institutions for the rights of women, and develop clear strategies and a way forward.

Ismat Jahan, Committee Vice-Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, welcomed the political commitment and the will to take forward the women’s agenda and stressed that the next step was to see real change on the ground.

The next meeting of the Committee will be on Friday, 11 July at 10 a.m. when it will consider the combined initial to fifth periodic reports of the Central African Republic (CEDAW/C/CAF/1-5).


Report

The combined initial and second periodic reports of Swaziland can be read here: CEDAW/C/SWZ/1-2.

Presentation of the Report

KHANGEZIWE MABUZA, Permanent Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister’s Office of Swaziland, said that after acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2004, Swaziland had adopted a Constitution that contained a dedicated chapter on the promotion and protection of women and children’s rights.  Consultative processes were ongoing on the establishment of the Law Review Commission which would fully align Statutes with the Constitution and international legal instruments; Swaziland needed financial and technical support to accelerate this process.  The Constitution tried to bridge the gap between customary and civil law and the process of codifying and harmonizing the civil and customary laws was at an advanced stage.  The country had embarked on a decentralization process which would also bring the issues of gender closer to the populace in the rural areas.  The Convention had not been used as a key instrument in interpreting the law, but it had been used as one of the pilot tools to guide the development of the National Strategic Framework and Action Plan 2013-2015.  The Government recognized the importance of training the judiciary at different levels to ensure that they knew how to use the Convention in judgements; capacity building of the judiciary formed a part of the National Development Strategic Plan and Government Targets 2014-2018.  The Gender Coordination Unit had been established in 1997 in the Ministry of Home Affairs.  In 2014 it became the Gender and Family Issues Department, strategically placed in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office to assume political authority to mainstream gender at the national level and was tasked with all matters related to gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

The Government had trained gender focal points and planners in all Ministries on gender responsive planning and budgeting, and worked together with civil society in the Gender Consortium which ensured the inclusive engagement of all stakeholders in policy planning and implementation.  Discrimination was prohibited in law, including on the grounds of gender, social standing and marital status.  The Constitution provided for equal access to land and in particular the Swazi Nation Land, for women and men, which was an important provision as it guaranteed access to this important national resource to women and unmarried men.  A Legal Aid draft Bill was under consideration, which would classify women as vulnerable groups in the justice system and would help them access justice.  The Ministry of Education and Training had a programme for students and teachers on girls’ empowerment which sought to create a safe space for girls in schools on various issues including sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence.  The 2007 National Plan of Action - 365 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence - focused on domestic violence and recognized the importance of addressing the pervasive stereotypes that affected girls and limited their opportunities.  Parliament had passed the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill in 2013 but had not as yet implemented it; the Bill attested that domestic violence in all its forms was not acceptable in Swaziland.  Escalating violence against women and in particular domestic violence was an issue of great concern; 80 per cent of the reported cases of violence occurred at home.  The lifetime prevalence of any sexual violence among 13 to 24 year old females might be as high as 48 per cent.  The Government aimed to reduce by half domestic violence in the period 2014-2018; it had opened hotlines and a One Stop Centre to assist victims.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert noted the slow process of domestication of the Convention in Swaziland and asked about the timeframe for the adoption of several bills that had been pending for as long as 15 years, including on marriage, administration of estate, sexual offenses, domestic violence and employment.  Commenting on the insufficiently developed prohibition of discrimination in the Constitution, the Expert asked about the plans to amend those provisions. 

The report was silent about the delivery of justice to women who filed claims for violations of their rights.  The dual court system disproportionately affected women, the inadequate legal framework which considered women as legal minors and denied them the right to sue in civil matters without assistance of their husbands, while the high cost of access to justice made it beyond the reach of women who made up the majority of the poor.  What were practices and procedures that limited access to justice for women and what was the timeframe within which those obstacles would be removed?  What was the content of the draft Legal Aid bill?

The delegation was also asked what Swaziland would do about the National Action Plan for the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations and their dissemination.

Responses by the Delegation

The head of delegation recognized the slow pace of the domestication and roll out of the provisions of the Convention, and said that the lack of resources and capacity were part of the problem.  There was a push with line ministries to address to outstanding legislation, particularly the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill which had passed both houses and only needed a royal signature.  Because there was a new Parliament, the Bill would have to be re-tabled, but the delegation noted that there were no issues concerning its content.  The codification exercise had been done, but there was still work to be done on alignment with the provisions of the Constitution.  There were no intentions now to revisit and amend the Constitution.  The Government was hoping to address the issues related to vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, through the social welfare framework, the adoption of a Disability Policy which had been recently tabled, and the enactment of gender and equality legislation.
 
The Marriage Act did consider women as legal minors, and this piece of legislation needed to be amended to allow women to sue and access services and facilities in their own right.  The adoption of the Gender Equality bill was one of the priorities of the Government which had it as one of the targets in its 2014-2018 National Action Plan.

Questions from the Experts

Taking up the issue of the national institutional gender machinery, a Committee Expert noted the very broad mandate of the Gender and Family Issues Department and the very low resources that it had at its disposal, including the staff.  The delegation was asked about the resource allocation for the gender machinery, whether the Department would be elevated to the level of Ministry, the timeframe for the adoption of gender guidelines, and about a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the National Gender Policy and Action Plan.

Responses by the Delegation

The 2014-2018 National Action Plan had as one of its priority sectors a gender index and the delegation hoped that the collection of sex-disaggregated data would be therein addressed.  The Government planned to institutionalize gender budgeting and to this end had trained focal points in relevant ministries which would be responsible for the production of gender budgets.  There was the intention to develop guidelines for gender mainstreaming and standards to be used by the ministries.  The Department was actively working with other parts of the Government to ensure more permanent staffing and capacity.  There was no intention to elevate the Department to the level of ministry; even at the current level the capacity in terms of human and financial resources was a challenge.  The Department had received a budgetary increase but in percentage terms it was insignificant; even more important than financial resources and the budget was that the relevant Ministries were convinced of the need for permanent staff in the Department and the need to increase staff numbers.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended Swaziland for its positive Constitutional framework which called for quotas in political participation and representation of women, and noted that those articles of the Constitution had not been evoked in the recent elections.  What was the reason for the non-implementation of the constitutional provisions and was there a need for a separate law on the implementation of quotas?

Responses by the Delegation

There was no discrimination against women participating in politics, but it was also important for women to want to participate and make an effort to participate.  There was a piece of legislation that allowed for the appointment of 10 women as members of Parliament and the Government agreed that there was a need for an instrument on the implementation of quotas that would be understood by all and which would go through both houses.  It was the electorate that did not trust women in the Parliament and not the fault of the system in place.  

Questions from the Experts

The 2007 United Nations Children Fund’s national study on violence against children and women was very disturbing in terms of the magnitude of violence, while another report found a rise in violence against persons with disabilities.  The Committee Expert acknowledged the positive measures taken so far to address violence against women, including the One Stop Centre and child friendly legislation, and the target in the National Action Plan 2014-2018 to reduce domestic violence by half.  The Expert asked about the roadmap to achieve this target, steps taken to push the Parliament to adopt the draft Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill, plans to decentralize the One Stop Centre concept in all four regions to enable survivors to access the services, and plans to establish other children courts to ensure that cases of sexual violence were dealt with efficiently and quickly.  Also, the Committee wished to hear what was being done to stop horrific attacks on persons with albinism.

Measures taken so far were insufficient to protect women and girls from the alarming prevalence of sexual violence, which primarily occurred at home or in friends’ or relatives’ homes.  The duality of laws and patriarchal values condoned practices discriminatory towards women, and the pervasive culture of silence was an obstacle in protecting women and girls from sexual violence and abuse.

The delegation was asked about gender stereotypes and what steps were taken to address the reinforcement of stereotypes by the media, politicians or public officials, and also about the commitment to the human rights of women.

Responses by the Delegation

The Child Protection Act 2012 aimed to address issues of fragmentation of laws pertaining to children and it was hoped that the approval of the draft Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill would do the same for laws pertaining to violence.  The enactment of those two laws was the basis for the elaboration of the ambitious plan to halve gender-based violence by 2018.  The Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill remained a priority for the Department which would ensure that it was considered a priority by all other relevant Ministries and that the adoption process was restarted.  The One Stop Centre was a pilot initiative aimed at children victims of violence, and there was the plan to decentralize the service in the four regions and to expand the coverage also to victims of gender-based violence.  Children courts would be expanded into the regions as well and the roll out would be completed in five years.  There was a proposal to have the Criminal Procedures Act address violence against albino persons; about 50 cases had been reported and gone through the system, although the Government suspected that there were more.

Swaziland did not condone violence and abuse of women in any form, and the passing of the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill was crucial to strengthen the protection.  Most of the violence happened at home or by people known to the victim and that partly explained the culture of silence.  The delegation did not know about plans to amend the Criminal Act which would shift the burden of proof away from the victim of rape.

The political commitment to the rights of women was there, and in discussions with international cooperation partners, the Government raised issues concerning the rights of its citizens.  The machinery should be tasked to bring to the table the specific requirements of the provisions of the Convention, so that issues of women’s equality, empowerment and protection from violence were brought to the fore.

The media was instrumental in raising the visibility of violence in the community and spurring the Government into action.  There was still work to be done on strengthening the cooperation and ensuring that the right message about negative stereotypes was sent.  Gender focal points had been established in each media house who had been trained in gender issues and who had initiated the gender and media policy housed in the Ministry of Information.  Gender-based violence cases were tried under the Criminal Act; some of the cases involving women had taken long to go through the justice system and this was of concern to everyone.  At the same time, interesting justice was rendered in recent gender-based violence cases, for example a 10-year imprisonment sentence to a grandfather who raped his granddaughter. 

Questions from the Experts

Swaziland had been addressing the issue of trafficking in persons since 2009, but lack of data and statistics hampered the understanding of the phenomenon and the measuring of progress; were there intentions to implement the Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings?

Prostitution was criminalized and women engaged in prostitution could receive sanctions ranging from fines to imprisonment.  Noting that criminalization of women engaged in prostitution was contrary to the provisions of the Convention, a Committee Expert noted the positive attitudes of the society which considered women as victims.

Another Expert congratulated Swaziland for including the 30 per cent quotas for women in the Constitution, however, those quotas were not complied with and there had even been a decrease since 2008 in the representation of women in the Legislative Assembly, which was a problem because legislative reform required by the Convention would be difficult without the participation of women.

Nationality was a precondition for the enjoyment of human rights and participation in politics; the point of Article 9 was to oblige States to ensure equality in transmission of nationality.  In Swaziland, there was evidence of discrimination against women in this matter, including in the matter of registration of children born outside wedlock who had not been recognized by their fathers.

Responses by the Delegation

Trafficking in persons was a serious crime and important measures were in place to address and if possible eliminate it.  Victims of trafficking were provided with safe homes and rehabilitation services, in cooperation with civil society.  Repatriation of victims was carried out on a voluntary basis.  Customary marriage did expose women to the risk of trafficking and exploitation; the law had set the legal age of marriage at 18 years.  All those issues were included in the National Action Plan on Trafficking in Persons.   A study on prostitution in Swaziland had been conducted by non-governmental organizations with the aim of assisting women who wished to stop being prostitutes.

Swaziland was committed to the participation of women in public and political life and the delegation recognized that the reduction in the number of women in the Legislative Assembly had changed the dynamic.  It also attested to the lack of interest of women in the country to participate in politics.  There was a need for an interest to kick-start the process on the implementation of the quota legislation, and also to stimulate the interest of women in political participation, and this must happen long before the elections.  Cultural background played a big role and it was doubtful that a woman would become a king any time soon.  There were cases of children born out of wedlock fathered by foreigners; they did get the nationality upon a filing of a request and renouncing the nationality of the father.

The Citizenship Act addressed the issue of nationality; following due process, the nationality was granted to a child born of a foreign father to a Swazi mother and a foreign woman married to a Swazi man.

Questions from the Experts

Swaziland granted free education, but in practice, education was not free because of hidden costs, and was not compulsory.  Only 27 per cent of girls studied science, while the drop-out rate for girls, especially because of teen pregnancies, was particularly alarming.  Re-entry policies for girls were not enforced, partially due to the community’s tacit disapproval.

Further on the discrimination against women and girls in the field of education, the Expert took up the issue of school violence and said that one in three females had experienced some form of violence before the age of 18.  Ten per cent of violations occurred in or around of school and a further 10 per cent on the way to school.  The delegation was asked about the collection of more exact data about sexual abuse and violence in and around schools, the number of cases reported, the prosecution of cases of sexual abuses of children, and the challenges to immediately abolish corporal punishment. 

Responses by the Delegation

In order to combat hidden costs of education, the Cabinet had initiated a tripartite dialogue between the Government, schools and parents, to examine the possibilities of implementing free education in the country by the end of this year.  There was a need for statistical data in order to make policy and address issues of concern in the field of education, including the segregation of girls in the science field. 

A number of reports pointed to sexual violence in and around schools and one of the measures was to reduce the distance travelled to and from school by ensuring there was a school in every five kilometre radius.  Teachers who committed acts of sexual violence against children would get transferred, usually because of lack of evidence, but it was clear that this was not enough and that justice must be done.   

Questions from the Experts

Employment
rates of women in Swaziland had steadily increased and today 52 per cent of women and 47 per cent of men were in employment; however, most of the women were employed in the informal sector, while the private and public sectors favoured men.  There were no mechanisms in place to deal with the historical gender gap, and protect women against discrimination and from sexual harassment in the formal sector.  Maternity leave was not respected, regardless of the guarantee of 12 weeks paid maternity leave contained in the Employment Law.

Maternal mortality rates in Swaziland had increased since 1995, mainly due to HIV/AIDS and the lack of access to health centres.  Abortions were illegal and carried sentences as high as life in prison; it was also illegal for pregnancies resulting from sexual violence and incest.  Use of contraceptives by both men and women was hindered by cultural, social and religious norms.  In 2012, one in four adults lived with HIV and Swaziland had the highest HIV prevalence in the world at 26 per cent, with higher prevalence rates for women than men.

Taking up the issue of the economic empowerment of women, the Committee noted that women faced a number of challenges in playing a more significant role in the economic context and suffered discrimination in national social development policies because women in the informal sector were outside the social protection system.

Responses by the Delegation

The number of women in employment had increased, mainly in the informal or industry sectors, where the bulk of the problems related to the rights of women were located.  The proposed legislation on gender equity and equality would address some of those problems, including protection from sexual harassment, full entitlement of maternity leave and the benefits following customary marriages.  The issues of labour were mainly addressed by the Ministry of Labour and not by the gender machinery; issues of sexual harassment were not part of the core mandate of the Ministry of Labour and it was the role of the gender focal person within the Ministry to mainstream gender in policies and programmes.  The fact that most women were employed in the informal sector was not discriminatory per se, but a reality of lack of formal education to ensure jobs in the formal sector.

There were challenges in reducing maternal and infant mortality, mainly due to HIV/AIDS and abortions.  The Constitution allowed abortion where a physician saw it fit.  Efforts on the prevention of the mother-to-child transmission of HIV were being strengthened, despite the major obstacles in terms of poor infrastructure, roads and telecommunications.  In Swaziland, culture or religion did not pose obstacles to the use of contraceptives, but the issue might be their accessibility and affordability, particularly in the rural areas.

There was no specific legislation on the small and medium enterprises sector, but there were policies in place that supported groups who wished to engage in income generation activities.  The small and medium enterprises policy looked at the activities in the informal sector, but its gaps could be fulfilled by programmes and strategies contained in the gender policy.  Access to land for women was still an issue, but there was a measure in place that ensured access to Swazi Nation Land to women even without them having to prove they had male heirs.

Questions from the Experts

Considering that the majority of women in Swaziland lived in rural areas, Experts wondered about rural development programmes in place, steps to combat rural poverty, access to land for women and programmes to support elderly women.  They also raised the issue of participation in decision-making of rural women, their access to agricultural inputs to increase productivity and the progress in ensuring safe water and sanitation.  The delegation was also asked to explain the situation of women with disabilities and the situation of widows.

Another Expert said that Swaziland was the last country in the world that still maintained the doctrine of marital power, under which the wife was legally a minor under the guardianship of her husband.  The delegation was asked to comment on the four types of marriages, three civil and one customary; the intentions to revise the legislation on marriage; grounds for divorce; and the polygamous nature of customary marriages.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that about 63 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line, and considering that women and children made up the majority of the population, the importance of rural development programmes and programmes to combat poverty was clear.  There were cases where, following the death of a husband, the wife was removed from the land and property; there were no legal provisions protecting the rights of widows, and that was why the Department was in contact with community leaders to urge them to provide protection to women. 

The elderly received $ 20 a month paid out quarterly, in the framework of assisting the elderly, particularly women, most of whom took care of their grandchildren whose parents passed away, mainly due to HIV/AIDS.  The Department was about to start a study into the situation of the elderly which would be used to inform policy.  The disability policy had been approved last year and would soon be rolled out; the policy did not provide any specific programmes for women with disability, but would ensure the payment of a minimal monthly grant to all persons with disabilities.

Two types of marriages existed: civil marriage under the Dutch Roman law and the customary marriage.  The Division was actively pushing the responsible Ministry to revise the law on marriages which held women back.  It was hard to manage the consequences of polygamy but abolishing this practice was a very sensitive issue and had to be done gradually.

Concluding Remarks

KHANGEZIWE MABUZA, Permanent Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister’s Office of Swaziland, said in her concluding remarks that the dialogue was a worthwhile experience and a learning opportunity, and agreed that the questions and comments by the Experts were for the benefit of women.  Swaziland needed financial and technical support to formalize and strengthen institutions for the rights of women, and develop clear strategies and a way forward.

ISMAT JAHAN, Committee Vice-Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue and welcomed the political commitment and the will to take forward the women’s agenda.  The Committee Vice-Chairperson said that the next step was to see real change on the ground and acknowledged the challenges ahead.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CEDAW14/016E