(Johannesburg) – Eswatini’s parliament should provide sufficient resources to protect women against violence and to effectively implement the 2023-2027 National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 9, 2024, King Mswati III is scheduled to officially open parliament and approximately a week later, Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg will deliver his annual budget speech.
The year 2023 ended with a spate of killings of women, and very little to show by way of concrete government action, despite the rise in the frequency and brutal nature of violence against women.
“Women and girls in Eswatini are facing high levels of violence, which requires an immediate and effective response by the government,” said Nomathamsanqa Masiko-Mpaka, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should place the issue high up on their agenda in deeds, not just words, and provide sufficient resources to implement laws and policies that seek to guarantee the safety of women and girls in Eswatini.”
The government neither fully implemented nor funded the previous 2017-2022 National Strategy and Action Plan to End Violence in Eswatini, under which a multi-sectoral approach to addressing violence in the country, including violence against women and girls, should have been put in place.
The government failed to establish a funding mechanism for the 2018 Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act, to secure coordination among government departments that respond to violence against women and girls, to ensure expedited sexual violence trials, or to provide enough support and shelter for victims and survivors. It took until July 2021, four years into the strategy, for the first government shelter for survivors of violence against women and girls to be opened in the country.
Nonhlanhla Dlamini, executive director of the Swatini Action Group Against Abuse, one of the largest local organizations working to end violence against women and girls, sexual abuse and human trafficking said to Human Rights Watch: “The 2017-2022 National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini just collected dust. It was a good strategy, but nothing was done.”
Many cases of violence against women that illustrate the brutal nature of the problem were reported in the final months of 2023. On October 28, at Goje Township in Ezulwini, a deputy sheriff, Vusi Charles Mncina, allegedly shot five women, killing four or them and seriously injuring the fifth. Mncini, who has been charged with four counts of murder and one of attempted murder, was allegedly romantically involved with one of the women.
On November 2, a woman was shot and killed at Ngwane Park in Manzini by her husband, who allegedly then turned the gun on himself. On November 11, another woman was brutally stabbed and killed at Siphocosini bus station in front of commuters, with her partner being accused of her killing. Many other cases are likely to have been unreported.
On November 7, the Swatini Action Group Against Abuse called on the government to declare such violence a national emergency.
Speaking at the end of year national prayer service on November 11, King Mswati publicly condemned the recent acts of femicide, stating that there is no justification for the killing of women by their intimate partners.
During the swearing in of cabinet ministers on November 14, the newly appointed deputy prime minister, Thuli Dladla, expressed concern over the alarming rate of violence against women and girls, and said that her commitment to ending such violence was her top priority.
But mere rhetoric will not protect women and girls from violence, Human Rights Watch said. As a party to multiple treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Southern African Development Community’s Protocol on Gender and Development, the Eswatini government needs to act on its legal obligations to protect women’s rights, including the right to be free from violence.
Eswatini has reflected some of these obligations in its domestic laws such as section 28 of the constitution and the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act, Human Rights Watch said. But its authorities need to fully implement them, including by budgeting sufficient resources to enforce them and to provide needed support services.
The National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini and Costed Action Plan 2023-2027 should not have the same fate as the previous one, Human Rights Watch said. It should be financed and implemented.
“The government of Eswatini needs to set aside a gender budget to ensure proper and systemic implementation, strengthen collaboration, and continually monitor the application of the policies, implementation of the gender strategy and positive parenting guidelines,” Sonic Dlamini, executive director of Kwakha Indvodza, told Human Rights Watch.
“This year’s budget speech should not be a platform for hollow words, but a time to reaffirm that women’s rights are human rights,” Masiko-Mpaka said. “The government needs to allocate sufficient resources to enforce and carry out its laws and policies to end violence against women and girls.”