Mbabane: Despite major efforts made by Civic and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to create equal opportunities for women to participate in politics and to increase female representation in government leadership in Eswatini, women’s inclusion and participation continues to be a major challenge.
According to the Gender links for equality and Justice 50/50 policy brief published in April 2020, Currently Eswatini has 14% of woman in local government, 15% in parliament and 32% in cabinet, and with these figures it shows that the country is far from reaching the gender parity goals set out in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocol on gender and development protocol which is aligned to the sustainable development goals.
There seem s to be gaps in the system that somewhat deprive equal participation of women in politics, thus the country still need to strengthen its political and electoral systems to stimulate woman participation in politics.
A former member of parliament and a runner for the 2018 parliamentary elections in one of the Tinkhundla Centers in the Lubombo region told this publication that there is still a lot that needs to be done to ensure woman’s participation in politics especially in the current political system.
The Kingdom of Eswatini uses the Tinkhundla system of governance which According to section 79 of the Constitution of Swaziland, the system of Government is democratic and participatory based on the Tinkhundla. The system emphasizes the devolution of state power from central government to Tinkhundla while individual merit is a basis for election and appointment into public office.
In general, Tinkhundla stimulate community development at grassroots level, coordinating and promoting a good relationship between Government and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working at the Tinkhundla level. They further provide a link between communities and government as well as other development agents to ensure the responsiveness of all national policies to the needs of the people. In the process they create harmony among all agents providing services within that Inkhundla.
With this system the proportion of seats held by women in both houses of parliament, the house of Assembly and the house of Senate are still relatively low compared to other countries. In both houses of parliament there is currently 17 % of women against the 30% articulated in the SADC protocol recommendations.
Only four SADC countries have met the 30% threshold, and no SADC state has met the SADC protocol recommendations. Eswatini continues to fall well short of targets for women’s representation in public affairs. The constitution of Eswatini provides that if after a general election the female membership will not meet the required 30% of Parliament, the house shall elect not more than four additional women by region. Even if these constitutional provisions were implemented, women’s representation in Parliament would still be below 30%.
With the next general election scheduled for 2023, Eswatini remains predominantly a ‘patriarchal society’ in which cultural norms and religious institutions significantly influence the molding of gender identities. Tending to promote the notion of male superiority and female subordination, these norms give rise to different expectations for male and female behavior and likely contribute to women’s continued underrepresentation in political leadership roles. Particularly in rural arrears it still remains a norm that women should be subject to traditional laws and customs this is also because these arrears are governed by traditional chiefs and not local governments.
Other Civic organizations like Woman and Law as well as a One Billion rising are on the move to encourage woman participation in leadership roles.
Colani Hlatshwako of One Billion Rising highlighted that woman in still needs to be educated on rising up to take the leadership roles in society.
She said that have noted with dismay the recent incidents that happened at the Mpolonjeni Inkhundla where tow woman declines Bucopho nomination.
During the nomination a total of 12 male candidates emerged as the ultimate nominees and during the nomination process, at least two women were nominated to stand for the elections. However, each of them declined the nomination.
Part of the reasons for declining of the nominations were not so centered around decisions which are not so valid, some cited family responsibilities which made it difficult to take the public office. “I am not well and I just want to concentrate on getting my health back on track before I can take up such responsibilities,” she said.
Another female resident, Vuyisile Vilane also declined a nomination. When interviewed, Vilane said she felt she did not stand a chance to win against the male candidates who had already been nominated.