Religion, Culture and Gender
A Study of Women's Search for Gender Equality in Swaziland
Christopher Amherst Byuma Zigira
University of South Africa
Although Swazi women's contribution to national development has been phenomenal, they like any other women in patriarchal societies confront an overbearing situation in which they have been regarded and treated as minors, both in the family and most spheres of public life. This has largely been due to the social construction of gender. Traditional gender-based attitudes, deeply ingrained in the people's mind set, not infrequently, have limited women's access to and control of various aspects of public life, and impinge on their rights, most especially the rights to self-determination and equal participation in the decision making process. Coupled with religion which influences "the deepest level of what it means to be human" (King, 1994:4) and zealous cultural conservatism, the Swazi women, with a few notable exceptions, experience an asymmetry of power due to the pervasive nature of gender. Nonetheless, the history of Swaziland bears testimony, however muted, to a legacy of women's struggles to overcome gendered conditions imposed upon them either by taking full advantage of their spiritual endowment and charisma to overcome attitudinal barriers or by organising themselves into groups to work for the social transformation of their conditions and status.
This study examines the Swazi women's search for gender equality. It discusses the social and cultural context of gender in Swaziland, the various moments in the Swazi women's quest for equality and its manifestations, and the push and pull effect of religion and culture. Particular attention is given to four organisations, namely Lutsango lwakaNgwane (loosely referred to as women's regiments), the Council of Swaziland Churches, the Women's Resource Centre (Umtapo waBomake) and Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA). The study shows that Swazi women have, across a passage of time, adopted different strategies, including ritual, economic empowerment and creation of new knowledge through promotion of gender awareness and social advocacy either in a womanist approach that accepts women's embeddedness in Swazi culture or in the liberal feminist tradition that espouses women's individual rights.
However, the study shows that the women's movement has yet to reach the critical mass level so as to influence public policy and come to terms with the deconstruction of the dominant gender ideology.
Religion and gender; Women and religion; Women and ritual; Women's economic empowerment; Women's rights; social reproduction; Gender equality; Social advocacy; Gender awareness; Swazi women; culture; religion.
Ch. 1: GENDER RELATIONS IN THE SWAZI CONTEXT: AN INTRODUCTION
Ch. 2: THE SOCIO-CULTURAL CONTEXT
Ch. 3: WOMEN IN SWAZI RELIGION
Ch. 4:ANALYSIS OF SOURCES OF INEQUALITY
Ch. 5:ANTECEDENTS OF WOMEN'S SEARCH
Ch. 6:CONTEMPORARY SEARCH FOR GENDER EQUALITY
Ch. 7: CHANGE AND CONTINUITY IN THE SEARCH FOR GENDER EQUALITY
Ch. 8: CONCLUSION
ISBN 9783895868405. LINCOM Cultural Studies 01. 250pp. 2003.