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Key findings
  • In Eswatini, women are somewhat less likely than men to have post-secondary education (22% vs. 30%).
  • Modest gender gaps persist in ownership of key assets, including a bank account (68% of women vs. 73% of men), a computer (26% vs. 30%), and a motor vehicle (16% vs. 24%).
  • Women are slightly less likely than men (50% vs. 55%) to say they make decisions themselves about how household money is spent.
  • Large majorities support gender equality in hiring (75%) and land ownership and inheritance (84%).
  • Most citizens (86%) say women should have the same chance as men to be elected to political office. o However, almost half consider it likely that a woman running for public office will be criticised or harassed (45%) and will face problems with her family (45%).
  • Only about one-third (35%) of Emaswati say their government is doing a good job of promoting gender equality. o Eight in 10 citizens (80%) say the government needs to do more to promote equal rights and opportunities for women.

“The unfinished business of our time” is what the United Nations (2020) calls gender inequality. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 describes equality for women as a human right and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.

In Eswatini, gender equality is a work in progress. Major steps forward include the 2018 High Court ruling that the common-law doctrine of marital power designating the husband as the ruler of the household – is unconstitutional, as well as amendments to the 1964 Marriage Act prohibiting child marriage, the 2018 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, and the 2018 Election of Women Act, aimed at increasing women’s representation in Parliament (Human Rights Watch, 2023; Shabangu, 2019).

Yet for now, women remain under-represented in leadership positions, holding just 17% of seats in the House of Assembly (IPU Parline, 2023). Girls and women also continue to face violence and discrimination embedded in persistent patriarchal norms (Mwanengureni, 2021). A 2007 Violence Against Children Survey found that almost half (48%) of girls and women aged 13-24 reported having suffered sexual violence (Reza et al., 2009), and in 2018, 17.7% of women aged 15-49 said a current or former intimate partner had subjected them to physical and/or sexual violence during the previous year (UN Women, 2021).

UN Women (2021) also notes that large data gaps hinder monitoring of progress toward the SDGs from a gender perspective.

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender equality in control over assets, hiring, land ownership, and political leadership.

In Eswatini, findings show gender gaps in educational attainment and asset ownership. Large majorities express support for gender equality in hiring, land ownership, and political leadership, but almost half also consider it likely that a woman will suffer criticism, harassment, or family problems if she runs for elective office.

Overall, Emaswati say the government should do more to promote equal rights and opportunities for women, ranking gender-based violence and women’s under representation in positions of power as the most important women’s-rights issues that their government and society must address.

Mbuso Dlamini

Mbuso Dlamini is the Managing Director of QA Strategic Information.