Girlpower in Swaziland: training rural women to become independent and active citizens.

Girlpower in Swaziland: training rural women to become independent and active citizens.

'Women In Network' empowers rural women to stand up for their rights.

The workshop on women’s rights has helped me a lot. I know my rights now and I share my knowledge with other women. Helping them feels good and gives me peace of mind. I can see how they are becoming more confident, knowing their rights. There is less abuse because the men are afraid of repercussions.

Phumzile Yende (51), chairwoman of the local women’s coalition and the Women’s Center in Lwandle

CONTEXT

Women are among the most vulnerable and underrepresented groups in Swazi society. Around 75% live in rural areas, where a traditionally patriarchal culture represses them. Political decision making is mostly in male hands: the local community council, but also urban and national politics. In spite of a rather progressive Constitution, in reality women don’t have the same rights as men: access to education, land, health, justice or jobs. Cultural norms downplay violence against women.

OBJECTIVES

  • The main goal is to make women’s groups and organisations stronger, so they can fight harder for women’s places in society and politics.
  • Teach rural women about their human rights. Boost their confidence to stand up for their rights. Counsel victims of abuse.
  • Include women in political decision making on rural, regional, urban and national levels.
  • Build a network of women’s groups to represent rural women in national politics.

RESULTS

  • 'Women In Network' joins seventeen local women’s coalitions. These women’s coalitions each represent their local community. They were all trained in women’s rights active citizenship.
  • The women’s coalitions each pass on their knowledge and skills to their communities through trainings and workshops. They teach their women to have a voice, defend their rights, stand up against abuse. They change the perception of women in their communities as powerful, active, equal citizens.
  • The women’s coalitions support their members by listening and counseling them about their problems. Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) also counsels and supports women in case of abuse.
  • The Women In Network group works together with other, bigger organizations on women’s rights. Together, they advocate for women’s rights at local and national institutions. For example, they presented their ‘Network’s agenda for change’ at national parliament. Also, together with other organisations, they are lobbying for a new Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill. It is the first time that rural women participate in a political process on such high levels.
  • Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) trained 400 rural women on these topics: counseling skills, leadership skills, sexual reproductive health, violence against women, HIV/Aids prevention, economic empowerment.
  • The Swaziland Community Multi-media Network (SCMN) trained women in basic community journalism skills. Independent media that support and are supported by the project: Swaziland Community Media Network (SCMN), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and Lubombo Community Radio. They share the message of equal rights with their local and national audiences.
  • Two new Women Centers were built. At these centers, women grow vegetables and make household products to sell. It is also a safe space for them to meet, to talk freely and to counsel victims of violence.
  • Women are now represented on different decision making levels, for example in development committees. Also, two chief’s councils now have women representation. More are to come.

FACTS AND FIGURES

  • 'Women In Network' joins 17 women’s coalitions, from 4 different chiefdoms.
  • 20 women per women’s coalition represent their local community, a total of 850 women actively participated in the programme.
  • A total of 57 766 people were reached.
  • 10 people in the media participated.
  • 170 people of local institutions participated.

TESTIMONY

The 'Women In Network' programme empowers rural women to stand up for their rights.

Together with the coalition’s committee, I am responsible for the well-being of our 20 members. They report their problems to me. It is a big responsibility, and it’s not always easy, but I don’t have a choice. They elected me because they saw something in me. So I will continue to do my job!

Here at the Women’s Center, we have a big vegetable garden. We take some vegetables home, but also sell them. Some we use to make spicy sauce for selling. We make and sell household products like floor polish, fabric softener and bleach. We also sew ‘wonderbags’ (insulation bags for cooking). First, you bring your water to boil. Then you add rice, beans or whatever you want to cook. You put this hot pot inside the wonderbag, close it, and leave it for some hours. We also have a child care service and we support ten orphanages in the area: we donate food, soap and part of our profits. One thing we lobbied for at the ministry of health, was to have a mobile clinic come by once a month! And last but not least, we organize all kinds of counseling workshops and sessions. COSPE trained three of our women to become counselors on physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Our counselors provide moral support on these topics.

Before the programme I had a hard life. It was difficult raising my children as a widow. Getting enough money was always stressful. Now I can provide for my family through selling products at the Women’s Center. I am financially independent! Just coming here and being together feels good, it always puts a smile on my face. The Women’s Center is a safe space for us to speak about everything and anything. Before, we used to sit underneath that tree, but we were afraid that people would overhear us talking about our problems.

The workshop on women’s rights has helped me a lot. I know my rights now and I share my knowledge with other women. Helping them feels good and gives me peace of mind. I can see how they are becoming more confident knowing their rights. There is less abuse because the men are afraid of repercussions. We report abuse to the SWAGAA (Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, red.). Their expert counselors help us to file a report to the police. Sometimes the police would take these charges too lightly, but now they are also getting afraid of SWAGAA!