The Southern Africa Litigation Centre is celebrating a significant victory for married women in eSwatini, after the country’s high court ruled Friday that the existing common-law doctrine discriminates against women and denies their constitutional rights to equality.
“Marital power refers to the archaic common law doctrine that a husband has the ultimate right to decide over his wife and the matrimonial property,” the SALC explained. “The doctrine of marital power means that a married woman cannot deal with the marital assets without the knowledge and consent of her husband, yet her husband can do so without seeking and obtaining her approval.”
Essentially, the SALC said, the doctrine limited women’s legal rights so severely that they live as if under guardianship.
Interestingly, the eSwatini court relied on recent judgments in Botswana and India on the legality of same-sex relationships to conclude that the dignity of women in eSwatini marriages was being denied them.
“The Eswatini courts have set a positive example in upholding the Constitution and defending women’s rights to equality and dignity,” said Brigadier Siachitema, Women’s Land and Property Rights Lawyer from SALC. “The judgment will set an important precedent for the region.”
The case was brought by Women and Law Southern Africa (WLSA-Swaziland), whose executive director praised the outcome.
“For many years, these discriminatory marital power laws have negatively impacted on women and on our ability to provide legal assistance to women,” said Colani Hlatjwayo. “We hope the judgment will bolster the State’s law reform process to ensure marriage equality is reflected in our marriage laws.”
Image: SALC file