Swaziland: Empowering women to beat abuse

Published on ReliefWeb, MBABANE, 3 July 2007 (IRIN).

3 Excerpts: Most Swazi women who face domestic violence do not take their children and walk out of the house. “They say, ‘who is going to feed me?’” Nonhlanhla Dlamini, Director of the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), told IRIN. But this is changing. An innovative SWAGAA programme to empower women economically in Swaziland’s patriarchal society is helping many out of a cycle of abuse and dependency. Until last year, women were regarded as minors in terms of the law, unable to own property or open a bank account without the permission of a male relative or husband …

… Helping themselves: Project ideas are thought up by women, who form the groups. They make clothing, handicrafts or soft furnishings; raise poultry, pigs or cattle, produce dairy products, or grow and prepare herbal medicines. The women usually already have the knowledge and skills required for a particular cooperative enterprise, but they need inspiration and instruction to exploit their knowledge commercially. “These are actually very poor communities, and it is exciting to expect – based on what has happened thus far – that five years from now they will have lots of money and they can get into bigger investments,” said Dlamini …

… Helping their families: “Everyone is equal in the cooperative. There is no company director or even chairman for the meetings. Everyone has to take responsibility for chairing the meetings,” she said.

“Each person keeps a record of how much they contributed, and another member must countersign. They are also instructed how to do audits of their companies.”

The new businesswomen’s families have been the main beneficiaries so far. “It is having a very positive impact on the children,” said Dlamini.

“The women are telling us, ‘Now we are able to pay our children’s school fees. I am able to buy a pair of shoes with the money I actually earned. We are able to get a decent meal, which is something we couldn’t get before’, in fact, they are lamenting that this programme did not come a long time ago.”

There is also evidence that domestic violence has waned in the households of project members, and SWAGAA has not received reports of gender or child violence perpetrated against cooperative members.

The programme foresees an economic boom coming from the new empowerment. “In 20 years this will be really big. The poor women of today will be businesswomen. The cooperatives will grow, and there will be a real impact on the national economy,” said Dlamini, who travelled to India last year to see how similar, well-established projects there were faring.

“The cooperatives [in India] are earning millions. The banks are taking them seriously, because they have actually become big depositors,” she said. “I can see this happening in Swaziland.” (first published on IRINnews).

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