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The phenomenon of gender-based violence is pervasive around the world, experienced by one in three women in their lifetimes. The elimination of such violence has been increasingly recognised as a priority for the international community, and Eswatini is no exception. Many may argue that there has been major progress in establishing the right of women to live free of violence in both international and national law, especially over the past decade, with civil society movements at the local level playing a pivotal role. At the same time, there is some way to go to address the underlying norms and behaviours associated with violence.


I believe that one of the reasons why the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence  (SODV) Act of 2018 was met with so much opposition even from senators, the people whose main mandate is to represent society, was because of toxic masculinities that have been the underlying factor in Eswatini relationships. Men have gotten away with abuse so many times that they feel personally attacked by the provisions of this law. It is important to mention that none of the offences in the Act are new. Women have always hated being treated this way. The only thing this law brought were stiffer sentencing and lower tolerance for these offences. The enactment of this law shed some light on broader debates about the value of international human rights law. Some regard international agreements and conventions as toothless, others point to evidence that these have helped to mobilise women’s groups.


International laws and norms set out standards of behaviour that are regarded as appropriate by a critical mass of nation-states, and such norms affect domestic policy making along a variety of causal pathways, including standards for domestic legislation, creating standards for global civil society to both advocate and monitor, and mobilising domestic civil society around these new shared expectations of individual and state behaviour. Therefore, the SODV Act seeks to give effect to certain rights which are enshrined in the Constitution of Eswatini Act of 2005, including the right to equal protection from the law, the right to privacy, the right to protection from inhumane and degrading treatment; strengthen and consolidate certain common law and statutory provisions to adequately provide for the successful dealing, in a non-discriminatory manner, with sexual offences and domestic violence and to provide adequate protection to complainants; and to provide protection to society’s most vulnerable, including women and children. So the activity of drafting and debating of the SODV Act followed an examination of the international legal framework. This process, which went on for over a decade, highlighted the important role of civil society, and especially human rights organisations, both in terms of bringing about reform and monitoring implementation.


The main drive behind this was the rapid rise of intimate partner violence directed at women – that is psychological and emotional, as well as physical and sexual violence, inflicted by a spouse, live-in partner or boyfriend. Intimate partner violence comprises the bulk of gender-based violence in all countries around the world. This is not the only aim of the SODV Act. The Act also recognises the abuse inflicted on men by their partners and incorporates such offences in each and every one of the provisions of the Act. This means that all offensive acts that are catered for in the Act recognise that they can be committed by either men or women, on either person. In short – the SODV Act is here to protect us all – this cannot be overemphasised!

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