By Susan Marx and Paula Rudnicka
On the occasion of Human Rights Day, which concludes 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (GBV), ABA ROLI-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium is pleased to announce its new initiative “Integrating the Response to GBV, HIV, and Economic Marginalization of Swati Women.”
Across sub-Saharan Africa, widespread prevalence of GBV is compounded by legal and operating environments that are not fully equipped to prevent violence and support survivors. Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) faces some of these challenges as well. Studies demonstrate that approximately 1 in 3 Swati women will experience some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18. This and other forms of GBV are deeply interconnected with a devastating epidemic of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which affects Swati women at a much higher rate (38%) than men (23%). At the same time, Swati women have a significantly lower labor participation rate and earn considerably less money than men for work of equal value, which leads to their economic marginalization. Further, Swati women experience significant barriers in access to justice under the dual legal system. The government of Eswatini has taken important steps to prevent and respond to GBV, for example by adopting the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act of 2018. However, while the SODV Act provides for protection orders and key victim support services, much remains to be done to implement it in practice. All these dynamics occur in a society that favors traditional gender roles and male dominance in decision-making and the economy.
These interconnected challenges faced by Swati women and girls must be addressed in a meaningful and integrated manner. To this end, WAGE’s two core partners, ABA ROLI and Grameen Foundation, will work in close partnership with local lawyers and several outstanding civil society organizations (CSOs) to improve legal protections and access to justice for women affected by or at risk of GBV and HIV; to support prevention initiatives, including those aimed at mitigating the risks of GBV associated with economic strengthening programming; and to provide holistic services and referrals to GBV survivors, including increased access to gender-sensitive livelihood support.
WAGE’s program in Eswatini has several interlinked components. First, WAGE will work with stakeholders across the Eswatini government, civil society, and the legal profession to advocate for better laws protecting women through legal analysis, roundtable dialogues, and the development and implementation of a legal advocacy strategy. Second, WAGE will strengthen the capacity of local CSOs to prevent GBV through civic education and gender awareness raising campaigns by supporting an existing paralegal program as well as Girls Clubs and Boys Clubs. These clubs work in over 45 schools to break down restrictive gender norms, prevent violence, and build self-esteem among adolescent girls and boys. Third, WAGE will work with a local partner to engage men and boys between the ages of 15-29 to reduce discriminatory beliefs that men hold toward women and their role in society. Fourth, WAGE will seek to mitigate GBV risks associated with women’s engagement in economic activities by facilitating linkages between GBV-focused CSOs and CSOs focused on economic strengthening, training them on gender and power dynamics, and building their capacity to conduct GBV risk analyses and implement GBV-informed economic empowerment programming. Finally, WAGE plans to support the establishment of one-stop-shop support centers for GBV survivors and to create a directory of CSOs offering legal, medical, psychosocial, and livelihood support to victims.
If lawyers, CSOs, and government in Eswatini have enhanced collective capacity to advocate for better laws protecting women affected by GBV, HIV, and economic marginalization, and if state and non-state service providers have increased capacity to promote prevention of GBV while also providing more holistic and gender-sensitive services to women at risk of discrimination and violence, then we hope and expect that Swati women will have greater power to lead more resilient, independent, economically sustainable, and violence-free lives. Our program builds on the momentum currently in Eswatini to advance women’s rights and voices to collectively advocate for changes needed across the board.
WAGE is a global consortium to advance the status of women and girls, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Grameen Foundation, and Search for Common Ground (Search). WAGE works to strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations in target countries to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence; advance the women, peace, and security agenda; and support women’s economic empowerment. WAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) and works in close collaboration with local U.S. Embassies, including the U.S. Embassy in Eswatini.
Rudnicka is a Legal Advisor at the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and Technical Advisor to ABA ROLI-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium.
Marx is the Program Coordinator of the WAGE "Integrating the Response to GBV, HIV, and Economic Marginalization of Swati Women" Initiative
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABA ROLI.