Thursday, 2 September 2010

Shame of Swaziland's sexual exploitation parade

Thousands of supposedly virgin Swazi girls will this afternoon be making a journey to the Queen Mother's Ludzidzini Royal Village, carrying bundles of reeds, on the fourth  day of eight-day cultural event whose climax on 6 September will be King Mswati III choosing one of them as his wife.

On that day, King Mswati - who already has 13 wives - is unlikely to pick a 14th. 

He is keen not to draw attention to himself following embarrassing revelations that his 12th wife - Nothando Dube - had slept with the now sacked Justice Minister Ndumiso Mamba.

Beyond that, it is clear that Reed Dance (or Umhlanga) -  an annual event where naked girls dance in public for the Queen Mother - is a sexual event bordering on exploitation. It has continued to prop up perception that women are sexual objects.

In the event, tens of thousands girls and women travel from their villages to take part,  in the eight-day event. Only childless, unmarried girls can take part.

King Mswati
 The main idea of the ceremony is to encourage girls to remain virgins until they are married.

That may have missed the point with the fact that the main idea for some (or most) girls is to catch the attention of King Mswati III and be possibly picked as the next wife. 

The Reed Dance has been a big date on the Swaziland cultural calendar since Mswati began the ceremony in 1999. The authorities say the event is also meant to help take down the numbers on HIV infection. But it does not seem to have helped. Nearly 40 per cent of Swaziland’s adults are infected with HIV.

By and large, it seems someone is hiding behind culture while clearly exploiting young girls. For years, women’s virginity has always been a favourite topic in patriarchal societies. And Swaziland is a kingdom where women do not have much say on public affairs. And they remain kinda minors under the law.

It seems that the men in this tiny nation are so much obsession about women’s sexuality. Because if the even was held purely to encourage chastity in girls, without the king choosing one of them to marry, then probably someone could argue a point about culture.

For now, the event does nothing to address the status of women, but rather degenerated into a breast pageant! Swazi women need to be disabused of cultural notions that demands that they parade semi-naked before men.

This event has set a bad example by encouraging polygamy and teenage sex. The king himself has often taken teenage girls to be his wives. He formally marries them when they become pregnant. Ridiculous!

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