Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Women and AIDS in Swaziland

An article was recently published in one of Swaziland’s newspapers about a seventeen year-old girl who had appeared in a Swaziland court after she had had an abortion for which she received a fine of 2000 Emalangeni ($US 265) or a two year prison sentence. Now, although the US$265 fine may sound stupid, keep in mind that close to 70% of Swaziland’s population earn around $165 PER YEAR. Then the fine becomes a really huge amount of money. (Unfortunately Swaziland’s newspapers do not have an archive on the internet. Only the main articles are published each day. The two newspapers are the Times and the Observer.)
Richard Rooney who frequently discuss articles published in Swaziland’s newspapers, brought this article to my attention. You can read his comment here:
Part of the hearing was reported verbatim and went as follows:

Magistrate – Do you know that there are contraceptives in this world?
Girl – Yes, I know.
Magistrate – Why did you not use protection when you engaged in sexual activity with this man?
Girl – He refused that we use a condom.
Magistrate – Why did you not tell him that you would not agree to have sex if he did not use one?
Girl – He grabbed me such that he got his way.
Magistrate – Oh he forced you? That is rape, did he rape you?
Girl – Eish, no. You see, we were lovers, he didn’t rape me.
Magistrate – But still you could have told him no protection no sleeping?
Girl – Like I said, he grabbed me such that I eventually gave in and said yes.

As I read this report I realised once again how absolutely hopeless the situation of most females in Swaziland – and for that matter in most of Africa – is. I’ve written before that, to think that most women in South Africa are in a position to negotiatesafe sex” within or out of wedlock is an illusion. In general women have very little rights and this becomes even worse when confronted by a man (husband or not) who is under the influence of alcohol or who is just generally abusive, as so often happens.
I’m not saying that all women in Swaziland are being abused. I’m not saying that this young girl did the right thing by having an abortion. I’m just wondering why nothing is being done to the man who obviously coerced this girl into having sex with him (him being married and she being underage). As I’ve mentioned before, domestic rape is a reality in many homes which makes the argument of the magistrate ridiculous. A culture needs to be established where women and girls are respected by men and boys if we honestly want the HIV rate to come down significantly.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, Culture, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland, Women


  1. According to this fragment of the transcript, there is another interpretation other than coercion (“we were lovers”). And that’s precisely what makes this type of case so difficult to assess.

    But your point is well made that the culture needs to foster a fundamental respect for women, and an equality in how justice for consequences is handed out.

    Comment by brad | Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | Reply

  2. Point taken, but what has to be kept in mind is that these relationships are often, if not mostly, started for economic reasons. There is an excellent document which you can read with the title: ‘Bus fare please’: the economics of sex and gifts among young people in urban South Africa. Yes, they were probably lovers, except that the relationship was probably started, not because she was in love with the man, but because this was the only way for her to get money.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | Reply

  3. This post, and by extension several others here on Mission Issues, have contributed to the inspiration behind the latest post on my blog.

    I’d be honoured if you’d give it a read, and perhaps offer a comment.

    Comment by brad | Saturday, February 16, 2008 | Reply

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