Swaziland Traditions Contributing to the Spread of AIDS; Women Have Limited Independence

Women HIV carriers are dying in waves in Swaziland. The UN is estimating that one third of Swazi children will be orphaned by 2005, according to the Los Angeles Times. The report states that polygamous marriages spread HIV/AIDS, as does the tradition of widow inheritance, a practice that passes the widow to the brother or next male relative of the husband. The widow might have contracted AIDS from her husband.

The UN issued a report this year describing the traditional dance of chastity, the “Reed Dance,” as a meat market for men and a channel for AIDS. It is customary for Swazi monarchs to select new brides and concubines at the Reed Dance ceremony where hundreds of young women dance bare-chested. In October, King Mswati III of Swaziland was accused of abducting 18-year-old Zena Mahlangu to be his 12th bride during the annual Reed Dance ceremony in September.

The UN report suggests that the low status generally given to women in Swaziland gives them no option but to depend on men, leaving women impoverished and vulnerable to exploitation if anything happens to the men in their lives, reports the LA Times. According to the Times, Swaziland has only recently drawn up laws against sexual offenses, and has “barely begun” to prosecute rapists. Women’s right to own property, enter contractual agreements, and function independently of their male counterparts are severely limited.

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LA Times 12/19/02; Feminist Newswire 10/28/02

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