Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane established one of the country’s first legal aid clinics under the auspices of the Swaziland Council of Churches. She credits her pastor with encouraging her to follow her dreams to become a lawyer and start the clinic.
Her legal work can be frustrating at times, as she advocates for enforcement of Swaziland’s 2004 constitution, which is supposed to guarantee equal rights for women. Yet women haven’t seen much change in their day-to-day status, she said.
Aphane offers a long list of examples. Women can’t own land or a business in their name, secure bank loans, or even apply for a passport without a husband’s or father’s permission. Crimes against women aren’t taken seriously by the police. The tradition of a dowry — exchanging cows for a daughter’s marriage — continues to place a numerical value on a woman’s life. Widows are expected to join the household — and bed — of their deceased husband’s brother, which is not only a human rights violation but contributes to the spread of HIV.
Currently, Aphane is using her own case to fight for equal rights under the law. In early 2009, after she was unable to register for a title to jointly own property with her husband, Michael Zulu, she filed a lawsuit against the government of Swaziland.
The current law has many negative consequences, Aphane said, adding, “Some women suffer untold problems: men selling property without their wives knowing about it or giving it to the mistress when in fact the loan is being paid for by the wife.”
She speaks confidently about winning her case, although human rights groups worry that victory will take years and thousands of dollars.
Aphane makes it clear that she isn’t in it for herself. “It is about other women,” she said. “I am tired of getting things other women can’t because I am so outspoken.”
The government actually tried to make a special exception for her, she revealed: “But I said, ‘No, I will see you in court.’”
Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane has her work cut out for her in Swaziland. She is so outspoken, she’s earned a nickname.
|Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane, a Lutheran from Swaziland, leads church efforts related to development and legal aid.|
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