A regime that never gets offended by Gender Based Violence

Media reports in the past few weeks have served to help us catch a glimpse of the situation regarding cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in eSwatini. As one would imagine, the media reports, startling as they may be, amount to only a minute fraction of the real situation because a number of cases do not get to media platforms.

It is really disturbing to see an increase in the barbarism and violence against women in our country. Husbands and boyfriends have made it a norm to beat up and/or kill their partners and this has created a society in which women perpetually live in fear. While eSwatini is not a safe country for many of us, especially political activists and human rights defenders because of the state sponsored massacre and general national oppression, it is worse for women who have to suffer triple oppression.

Firstly, together with men, they suffer the national oppression by the Lobamba regime that is clinging on to power through repressive state apparatus, as well as class oppression by virtue of belonging to the working class that gets oppressed and exploited by the employer or the ruling class. Then they suffer oppression directed at them as a consequence of patriarchy – male dominance and the general social power relations have culminated to a stage whereby men see women as objects, hence the assault and killing of women in our society. This is getting worse by each passing day and it is a cause for concern.

Gender Based Violence is a persistent challenge in the country, and statistics are to the effect that this is disproportionately affecting women and girls with approximately 1 in 3 females having experienced some form of sexual abuse by age 18 years, and 48 per cent of women reporting to have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. According to UNFPA Eswatini, victims of this form of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death.

What is even more disturbing in eSwatini is that the authorities do not seem to be bothered by the alarmingly high rates of violence against women and children. If you consider the country’s general human rights record, the behaviour of the state regarding this human rights violation, GBV, is not at all surprising. The country is deficient in terms of mechanisms needed to prevent and respond to these atrocities, and the legal framework necessary to punish those who perpetrate these acts are inadequate and, in some cases, entirely non-existent. That is why we live with those who beat up women on daily basis; there are no consequences for it. When the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act came into effect there was hope but there seems to be no commitment on the part of the government to develop a comprehensive programme to address GBV and deal with it once and for all.

When the International Commission of Jurists Africa submitted a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in November 2021, one would have thought the country was going to act decisively because the report highlighted the plight of GBV in eSwatini and the difficulties survivors face to get justice. Among many issues, the report revealed that under lockdown there were so many instances of women being subjected to GBV by their abusive partners, and the survivors were not able to access domestic violence shelters.

Now, this can only mean one thing: the state is not offended by GBV. We have seen how efficient and decisive the eSwatini state can be when confronted with what it perceives to be a serious offense. The Victor Gamedze murder case is one example. Never in the history of eSwatini has the police and courts been so decisive and effective as has been the case with this legal process. We also know how the state deals with the pro-democracy movement; even 2 people delivering a petition are considered a threat and police vans and trucks move around to clamp down on them. We have seen how the state have gone after harmless and non-violent people like MPs Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube – if such noble human beings can be pursued in this manner, why not use the state infrastructure to deal with real threats like Gender Based Violence that lead to deaths?

I am yet to see the head of state, His Majesty King Mswati III, speak decisively against GBV in one of his many speeches. You listen to him speak in the midst of women killings and escalating rape incidences and you think he will mention it – nothing! The question is: why are things that are harmful to the people not considered a threat to the nation? Why is the eSwatini state not offended by Gender Based Violence? Women are dying, the nation is hurting and the state is quiet – it cannot pull together resources and put in place mechanisms to deal with this life threatening issue.