We as the Swaziland Young Women's Network (SYWON) informed by the realities of young teenage girls on the ground, launched a debate in 2011 on whether young girls pregnant whilst in school should be chucked out. This emanated from the observations and concerns about the low literacy levels amongst women, cycle of poverty which bears a woman's face, high HIV /AIDS rate, perpetual dependency on men which limits women's dicision making power especially as it relates to their sexual and reproductive health rights and many other concerns related to the right of women to basic education. The plight of young girls compeled the urge to dialogue and negotiate for transformative alternatives to allow these young girls access to education amidst all the chalanges.This debate sparked a negativity and backlash from some members of the public who felt that allowing such would open room for a public disater and perpetuate the "roten potatoe culture".
However we are greatful to the recent development by the ministry of education. subsequent to the public statement by the Minister of Education and Training Wilson Thsangase, SYWON wishes to thank the goverment of Swaziland especially the ministry of education for intervening in this regard and coming out publicly to guarantee the protection of the pregnant girl child's right to education. In a long time we had a common practise of schools expelling these young girls but now they will enjoy this right not by favour or symphathy but legitimatly because in the past, we did not have a policy warranting the expulsion but it was common practise.
We are all aware that there are so many factors that result in these young girls falling pregnant whilst still in school, some of which have been highlighted but partially due to the fact that we have a high number of orphaned and vulnarable children (OVC) as a country, also as a result of abuse by immediate relatives and also as a result of intergenerational and transactional relationships.Whilst our constitution and national gender policy allows equal opportunities and several other regional and international instruments, we are happy to see our goverment moving from paper to people in trying to implement the potential victories promised to women and girls.
These great news come at a time when we are geared towards the international women's day under the theme"A PROMISE IS A PROMISE: TIME FOR ACTION TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN!". We are also hoping that the education on human rights and life skills offered by ourselves and other civil society organisations on the gorund alongside comprehensive legislation to protect women and girls from sexual violence shall continue to curb sexual coercion and promote good behaviour. Hence we wish to continue encouraging parliament to to enact the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill 2009 into an Act.
In Conclusion we remind society that women's rights are human rights and must be treated as such without any bias. As an organisation working on women's empowerment, we believe that the right to basic education is fundamental to sustainable development and particularly the education of girls is one way in which we can eliminate the cycle of feminised poverty.