Doo Aphane LL.M Law and Development, Director, Women for Women Development Consultancy

Words of Wisdom: “We should not wait to be counted in. We should just count ourselves in.” – Doo Aphane

Interview with Doo Aphane LL.M Law and Development, Director, Women for Women Development Consultancy


Doo Aphane LL.M Law and Development, Director, Women for Women Development Consultancy

Doo is a lawyer by training, a human rights and gender specialist, working as Director of Women for Women Development Consultancy.  She is the founding National Coordinator of Women and Law in Southern Africa Trust (Swaziland chapter). She has conducted action research in different family law areas, leading to several co-authored publications on family law. Doo has also worked as founding Regional Coordinator for Women’s Legal Rights Initiative operating in six Southern African countries; Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa. Instrumental in positioning women in the constitutional review process that lead to the adoption of National Constitution in 2005. In 2009 she litigated against the Swaziland Government to uphold her constitutional rights and those of similarly positioned fellow Swazi women.

Doo was instrumental in a suite that eventually allowed for the first time in the history of Swaziland, women married under community of property will now be able to have “immovable property, bonds, and other real rights” registered in their name.

Doo Aphane LL.M Law and Development, Director, Women for Women Development Consultancy

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

When you received the ruling that you could own land, how did that impact you personally?

The ruling in the High Court affected me in a very positive and energizing manner. It was touching upon my dignity. My dignity was restored for me as an individual. I have partner that was entitled to and registered by the law to own land. He was always open dealing with property that we jointly owned without my name appearing on the Title deed. So for me it was all about dignity.

Having working in different platforms of women, and being part of the community, I was very excited on behalf of women. I know too many that lost their homes, lost their funds because their home was sold behind their backs without their knowledge. Sometimes the house was sold with knowledge, but without their consent. This was the beginning of good things to come.  I also look at it as Swazi women claiming their economic space. I have the view too many of our initiatives are around political leadership. Politics needs to be holistic. Women need to be armed with resources at their personal, community and national levels.

We need allocation for the most basic things such as water.  How often is it mentioned in Parliament? If we had more women in Parliament we would hear it mention more than it is.

There is to be 30% women in politics, but at this point Swaziland has vastly fewer women in Parliament, what are your thoughts on that?

Our Government has demonstrated upon any reasonable doubt that there is no political will in the country have that critical minority. The 30% is what we crafted in our constitution. At the time of crafting constitution the thinking was most influenced that was SADC Declaration (Southern African Development Community. Even the SADC has moved to 50%. The Government is failing, I mean the Parliament itself is failing and it shows a lack of political will.

Also, it is showing us women we need to strengthen our movement. This is the fourth year this Government is in place and it is not dually constituted, it needs to have additional four women, as women are less then 30% of the 70 members of the Lower House.

This voice I am trying to be it is still not strong or loud enough, it needs to be louder and stronger by reaching out in the communities.

What do you think the biggest injustice done to women in Swaziland?

The biggest injustice done to us women in Swaziland is that we are second-class citizens. Whether we are talking about women within the family, or whether we are talking about women in the public space.  For as long as the equality that is mentioned in the constitution is not mainstreamed in all legislation and in practice we will remain second-class citizens.

As it were we still cannot pass on our citizenship to our children. If we are married to foreign men our children do not become citizens of Swaziland.

Access to resources, the major resources in Africa is land. Seventy-seven percent of our people live on Swazi land. It is communal land it accessible only freely. Someone will give a piece to the chief as a sign of appreciation.  Even with the constitution in place it states that both men and women should have access to this land, there are very few Chiefs that will allow women to access this communal land in their own right. It is degrading.

A women of my age would have to get a male, that male could be your newly born son, or born grandson, as along as you have a male, to approach the Chief. So it becomes difficult for me to even identify one area that we are discriminated against. The injustice that we are suffering it is humiliating to think that you have to get your son, or a man to access land. It is as if we can’t think for yourself. Even with the types of deed land, the case I took to court, it has finally gone to both houses of Parliament, but it does not have the Royal assent to be an act it remains a bill. So we are half way through, in the sense that women that are married in communal property have to register jointly with their husbands, it is no problem per say, but there is a problem that men that are married in communal property are still allowed to register title on their own.

Women being second-class citizens affects land, what else does that affect?

  1. Gender based violence
  2. Health
  3. Politics
  4. Culturally

There is no area of life that is not touched by this injustice.

You know in this country we are most affected by HIV/AIDS (48% of the population in 2012), in studies after studies are level of knowledge is quite high. Women are infected knowingly, because they do not have power to make decisions. On whose land can they make decisions? There is nowhere you belong as a woman. They are told it is time to get married; it is time to move on.

In their marital homes with their in-laws they do not have a say, because it is another clan. This lack of where women belong, they lack ownership, they lack full rights, even when we talk about the economy.

Lets talk about basic resources like education. Education is open for boys and girls. But girls once you are pregnant you have to come out of school. Education is not compulsory; therefore there is still some preference.  Teachers still encourage boys to take the ‘harder subjects’ like sciences.

We have very high statistics on gender based violence. It is mostly violence against women, but then it is blamed on women. There dress code, what they did not cook the night before, and the money they did not want to give to their husbands, etc.

These issues are still prevalent in Swaziland today?

They certainly are.

When looking at other countries, do you feel Swaziland is behind in regards to equal rights?

We are behind, that is a fact. What is the problem is we are behind, but we are denying it. The first think that you would be told when you talk about equality in Swaziland that the Majesty the King rules with his Queen mother, but the question is, at the end of the day with that arrangement, clearly there is one head. I am clear who the Head of State is. It is not two people, there is one Head of State. Besides that, lets talk about consultation at the next level. When you talk about the Chiefs, there is no role for the Chief’s mothers or wives for consultation. When you look into the expectations traditionally, women are always expected to serve. When you are talking about customs, they are only dynamic as far as man are concerned, but as far as women are concerned it is needs to be frozen.  It needs to be in a frozen state. You wonder how to even apply that custom people are even talking about in a continued changing context.

We are behind development in many of the countries in SADC. It is easier to look at our situation in SADC, because we have human rights and women specific instruments and barometers that do a comparison. Our biggest problem is we are denying. Women are suffering and they are not supposed to talk about it.

This goes back to our conversation before we started the interview. I have been in Swaziland for two weeks and I have not heard that women are not treated equally. In every other country I have heard it, but not here.

What do you think women should doing to create the reality of equality?

We do have a problem; we call it “do not hand your dirty laundry in public.” It is very strong. That is a good girl.  You are true Swazi women if you didn’t talk about your challenges.

I think what we need to do as women is we need to be organized not only at national level but in every corner where we are standing starting from the family level, because as long as issues are not being dealt with in the family, it will be a bit too late to start dealing with things in the public space. Women should start coming together in the family and start to question.

Up to today, women are disinherited in their families. When you look at the livestock in the communities, it belongs to future generations, but what they mean by future generations is the males in the family. The female should get married and she will get the brides prize of cattle. The brothers benefit form the cattle.

We should be holding hands in groups of women of 12, 12, 12 etc. in whatever space we are in and then we should come together another layer, another layer.  We need agency, we women need to help that agency to act. Once we have that agency, others have know how in different fields and we can share that, but I am looking for that seed in everyone. In the church they would talk about the conscious, but here I am talking about that each one of us has the potential to be the agent of change. Obviously it cannot be all the women, but I am expecting the majority.

The reason I am not expecting all the women is because some are beneficiaries big, big time of what is happening. So obviously I cannot expect to be at the forefront of the change. We women have to learn how to be there for ourselves. A doctor cannot help you unless you explain your condition, no matter what stage you are brought in. They can guess, but at some point you have to gain your consciousness and explain what your problem is. We have to have that agency and we have to stop crying behind closed doors. We need to stop speaking parables and tell each other that we have a problem and share it.

What needs to happen, as it is a huge cultural shift? Who is the catalyst to create the opportunity for women to say “ I don’t like the way I am treated, I don’t like being beaten up, I don’t like disempowered. I heard today that women are receiving awards for success, and husbands are saying they cannot receive it? Who is that group is going to stand up and allow women to share their issues?

I have already started. I have been offering that for 15 years. But I need a tighter strategy for doing it so that this conversation is taking place literally all over the place. I can be in a supermarket, funeral, wedding… the moment Doo Aphane is there, there is going to be mention of issues of women. What is needed is a strategy to make sure the conversations are alive and happening in the boardrooms, in Parliament and in church.

In this country you need to understand that people are extremely evangelized, I mean extremely. They go to church like there wont be a church tomorrow. But even in the churches themselves women do not receive liberation that they should be getting from Christianity, from God and from the Bible.  How many of them would even allow women to stand in front of the pulpit? How many can be ordained as ministers? Again, even in the church women are being used. So these conversations are just being taken place like it is between us, or in the market, in Parliament they should be having a caucus.

Nobody is going to come and do it for us Swazi women. It is something we have to do ourselves.

How may women stand by you? You are one person. To orchestrate these conversations it is a big job. Is there a group of women that you have spoken to that believe in what you see and believe that they are treated unjustly?  Who is standing beside you?

People that are truly standing beside me are people that have gone through bad patches. I have been there for them. I have made sure they get some assistance, or give them a name of an organization that can assist them in the area of human rights.  These are the women that will say, “This women needs to be listened to. This is what happened to me, this is what I use to say before,” they stand.

There are also men that are standing beside me. Most of the time these men’s sisters or daughters have been affected. Those men give more support, because they have no fear. Some of these men admitted to me that before their sister had this problem and you help out, they would say if their family saw a picture of you on TV, they must switch it off. My wife knew that if she was ever in the same room as you, it was the end of the relationship. These are the men who call and follow-up because there sisters and daughters have been assisted. And they are now looking at issues of women differently.

There are also the young upcoming women; they are few depending on the issue you are talking about.  For example if you talk about abortion, no one will communicate her message on TV. They say it is too bad I am not there, because they believe I will talk about it on TV.

Abortion is a fact. It is accessible for those that have the money. In South Africa, our neighbour, abortion is legal. So women go there. Middle-class can get access because they have the  money.

You have spoken about men standing by women, and it is my understanding when you went for the Title of your land, you had the support of your husband. What sort of impact has your support of your husband had on your pursuit of getting women’s rights heard? Has he had an impact?

Definitely he has. When I am in the public I have to exude this fighting energy all the time. But when I am home I am accepted as I am.  I have these two worlds. I get really energized because there is no fighting when I come home. When I come home I get encouragement. Not so say that if he wasn’t supportive I would have stopped, but I need to acknowledge that he fuels me in a BIG way. That is why I could face the government without consulting anyway because it was time.

When did you really start pursuing the land ownership? What was the trigger?

When I got married I was a graduate, and I knew if I got married I would loose certain rights, but it was out of chose. I believed in our marriage and we wanted to have things owned jointly, but I did not believe in the consequences. At that time the constitution was not in place. There were number of laws that were adopted from old laws from Holland. So there have been efforts to piecemeal with laws – this had an affect on women. We did not have a law review in place. The initial constitution was repealed five years after independence. When the opportunity to draft the constitution came in 1973, five years after independence (1968), The moment it was, against all odds, I have worked as an individual, in the organizations I worked in, in Church, funerals, whatever. I was mobilizing what the constitution was and the importance of women to participate in the process. Encouraging them to make submissions to what they want in the constitution.

There was convention in discussion of all forms of discrimination against women. It is old convention and by the time of the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995 a number of countries had already signed and ratified and Swaziland had not. I was working tirelessly to make sure our country did, but our country did not. There were condition from EU grant by 1998 you should be ratified or you don’t get additional funding, that still did not encourage Swaziland to get ratified . With SADC the other countries had ratified with their neighbouring countries to put on some pressure. As we know the Beijing Women’s Conference created the blueprint for women on equality. Eventually I can’t say exactly why, but one of the things one of the Ministers got the women from the region and we had an audience with the Majesty himself about this convention, it was late in 2002. Quietly and swiftly in March 4, 2003 the convention was ratified. The nation of all forms of discrimination against women, we signed it ratified, so we are seeded on the same without any reservations of that convention. At that time it was just before concluding the constitutional drafting process, so we thought this is a game. As we were crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s with the constitution, it goes without saying, we had just ratified what was required from the convention, all these things must be in place. We should get a new dispensation as women.

Come 2004, there was draft stated many things, we made submissions…after today many of them remain, but they are not conducive. In 2005 they were adopted. One must think the little that is there can be used. By the little I mean the equality clause, clauses on ownership of property including on Swazi National land.  Then in 2007 women tried to purchase land – nothing. In 2007 movement was quite, land ownership remains an individual thing. I realized it was a clear opportunity, I did not need to stress about organizing and mobilizing, just that others should follow. This is the time lead and they will follow.

The impression I am getting is you are leading, some are following, but not completely. They want to follow but there are consequences. They may not be following for several reasons: they are not passionate enough yet, they don’t have enough support, or they don’t have enough conviction.  Why you? Why are you taking this on predominantly alone, only with some supporters on the way? Why do you feel you need to lead the charge?

Because I have identified as a problem. I can’t even start to pretend.

This is a problem I identified as a child. I am born to a problem. I come from a family of that has many girls and although they said they gave equal opportunities to boys and girls, they were not so equal. I have one brother, the baby in the family. My mother would go on and on when my sisters would come home late, around sixish when it starts to get dark. However, my brother would come home at 6:50 and I would ask my mother why are not shouting at him?  

When I went to Sunday School, you have to wear only skirts on Sundays. I would be asking “from what we are taught, God knows me when I am naked, so what does it matter if I am wearing shorts? I was asking those questions from childhood. I was getting encouragement. My mother would say “shut-up, she is only a child” about things I would say, but other would give me the thumbs up baby girl, because it was supporting their cause.

At university no one nominated me to be the spokes-person for women, but I was. They would say wait for Doo, I am sure she will input. They use to call my “Justice Shriner” that was the descending judge. I would say: there is this, there is  that, you have not considered this.

I believe in girl power, I went to a girl’s high school. To do something, it was the girls that did it. The problem was just in my face, and I as Doo realized I had the resources that could bring change.

I have heard that the King will say: “What does Doo say?” is that true?

Yes, it is true. They say he says when a Commissioner or Advisers bring a list to the King, he will ask: “Is your list Aphane compliant?” meaning, did you consider gender?

It doesn’t matter where or who is the room, I will not pretend. But I am always advocating for women.  I know I am suppose to pretend.

I could have made money big time appointed into this or that, people know I have the brains or the know how, but she will say what the problem is.

When will you be successful?

I have started to be successful. There are more and more women that are talking about women’s issues. This is complicated issue, as we are talking about patriarch. It is a matter of degree. Some will deal with some things and not others. Especially the younger ones want to see how they can infuse their rights based approached in their little corner in terms of what they are doing.

I will be success when the women in this country are people. They have attained a state where they can live their lives on their terms, just like our male counterparts who live their lives on their terms.

How do you feel polygamy affects women’s rights?

It is very very negative. We actually don’t have polygamy, because that would mean I could have seven husbands too. Polygamy actually means multiple spouses.  What we have in Swaziland, we have polygyny, which is only men have multiple wives which is inequality. Why can a man have multiple spouses and women cannot?

We cannot talk about polygyny and talk about chose. We will talk about chose when we have polygamy where both women and men can practice the same or we should not have it. We are far from equality when we are embracing polygyny.

Then there are women who are married and they are the first wives, those women don’t choose to have the second or ninth wife. It is inequality to the second wife because they are competing for the man’s attention, but he is not competing for theirs. This is just treading on our rights.

When you look at your career what is the most significant impact you have made to date?

I have creating admission to there is a problem in women equality. There is awareness of women’s human rights at a national and community level. Women even raise publically women’s issues  when the King calls a national and convenes a meeting. This is a traditional meeting but women do talk about abuse and equality of women and nothing will happen to them.

When I started to talk about women’s rights, it was more referred to as ‘Western Blasphemy.’

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

I am not most comfortable asking for money. I wish I could be self-funded. Funding comes with strings. We do things on the terms of other people. Sometimes I don’t even consider where I getting the funding from, we don’t make the time to find out where they are getting the funding from. All we want is this enabling monies to meet our objectives.

I am trying to think hard how to amplify this voice without needing others money. This voice actually is even about questioning beyond the rights of women, the economy and how things are run.

I am a bit of fan of funding independently so you can control it based on the objectives you have set out.

If there were one thing you could do differently, what would that be?

I think there was a time using media was the way of amplified one’s voice. I think I could have fine-tuned the strategy and started bottom up, rather then top down.

If there was one thing you could attribute your success to, what would it be?

I believe that “I” counts. I count. No matter what came before me. I am a Christian, before I even say “my God” I am already thinking what I am going to do? If when I ask God to help, I have to be there to ask the question. The “I” is plural to me. The individual counts.

What does success mean to you?

Success is when I see the desired results, or the process starting. Success is when I see women are able access funding for those community members because I have had conversations with them. I have created awareness for them that they are entitled. Help them to fill out forms for specific issues and they share that.

Success is also for me to not give up.

Making changes even if they are so very basic.

How do you define leadership?

Leadership is realizing the potential of the people you are to work with.

Leadership Lessons

  1. Passion is very key. It becomes difficult to be in something for the long haul. For me it is Women Unlimited.
  2. Timeliness. It must be the time for that thing to be done.
  3. Making sure that women are going to benefit the most form the initiative. The people you want to be the beneficiaries are actually are the beneficiaries.

Reflective Realizations

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old daughter?

You are the main ingredient to whatever life you wish to lead. Others can help, but you are the ingredient and you will deliver it to yourself.

Q. What do you wish you were told at 10 years old?

I wish I was told I was a leader and I could be a leader.

What is next for you?

I am trying on building the movement in Swaziland. How to do it, is the million-dollar question.  I am working on a humble movement building strategy. So when you come back here next time the issues of women must be really alive.

Words of Wisdom

African sisters, please know that we are continent that we are endowed with resources that are endowed just as much for us as they are for our male counterparts — whether we are talking about natural resources, or talking about institutions that are in various countries. We should not wait to be counted in. We she just count ourselves in.


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