By: Naomi Ndifon

On 29 September 2023, more than 580,000 registered voters gathered to elect the 59 members of the Kingdom of Eswatini’s House of Assembly. Women made up 54% of the voters. Although women made up a significant portion of voters, few female candidates were elected, and women remain underrepresented in parliament.

Several electoral observers, including the African Union (AU) and the South African Development Community (SADC), noted that the 2023 election was calm and peaceful. The 2023 polls came two years after the 2021 pro-democracy protests turned violent, with around 40 people dead. The pro-democracy movement called for electoral reforms allowing voters to elect the Prime Ministers. Before the 2023 polls, the opposition called for a boycott as they felt the results were “ a foregone conclusion.” Most of the candidates elected are reportedly loyal to King Mswati III.

Eswatini – previously known as Swaziland - is an absolute monarchy wherein the King is the Head of State, and the members of parliament serve in an advisory capacity. The King appoints the Prime Minister. The bicameral parliament, called Libandla, comprises a 30-seat Senate (upper house) and 70-seat National Assembly (lower house). In the Senate, ten members are indirectly elected by the House of Assembly, and the King appoints 20. In the House of Assembly, the King appoints ten members, while 60 are directly elected. Candidates run for elections independently, as political parties have been banned for five decades. The members of both houses serve five-year terms.

The Kingdom of Eswatini uses a legislated quota for both houses of parliament. The 2005 Constitution outlines that if the number of women in parliament falls below 30% of the total membership, the House of Assembly is mandated to elect one woman from each of the country's four regions, not exceeding a total of four women in parliament. Of the ten members appointed by the King, at least half must be women. In the Senate, of the ten members elected by the House of Assembly, at least five must be women, and of the 20 appointed by the King, eight must be women.

Women’s Political Participation

In both houses of parliament, women’s representation increased. In the House of Assembly, of the directly elected members, 8 (13.56%) out of 59 were women elected compared to 2 (3.39%) in 2018. Among the appointed members, women’s representation rose from 3 in 2018 to 5 in 2023. Thus, following the 2023 polls, the total number of women (directly elected and appointed) increased from 5 in 2018 to 12 in 2023. Although falling short of the 30% quota, women’s representation in the House of Assembly saw a significant increase from 7.2% (5 out of 69 members) to 17.1% (12 out of 70) in 2023, making it the highest number recorded in recent history. In the Senate, the total number of women also rose from 7 in 2018 to 13 in 2023, thus meeting the quota set.  Senator Pastor Lindiwe Dlamini was re-elected President of the Senate.

Among the ministers appointed by the King from among members of parliament
4 out of the 19 are women, compared to 6 out of 19 previously. Among the current ministers, King Mswati III appointed Thulisile Dladla, who had previously been the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, as the Deputy Prime Minister. Other female ministers in Eswatini’s 12th Parliament include Honorable Princess Lindiwe, who was reappointed Minister of Home Affairs, Honorable Jane M. Mkhonta Simelane, appointed Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs and former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Honorable Pholile Dlamini who was reappointed into the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

With regards to advancing women’s participation in political life, in 2018, Eswatini adopted the Election of Women Act to address women’s representation in elected office and provide for the process and mode of nominations and elections. The Elections Act prohibits discrimination regarding the political participation of a voter and an electorate. Additionally, the National Development Plan 2019/20–2021/22 of Eswatini sets a target of 50% women in the cabinet, executive bodies in the public sector, the judiciary and parliament. Finally, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus works to enhance female participation in parliamentary questions at the national, regional and international levels.

The country has also enacted other measures to advance women's rights. The 2018 Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act stipulates several penalties for rape, sexual harassment and assault, stalking, drugging, grooming, and child abuse, amongst others. It also protects victims of exploitation, such as sex trafficking. Additionally, according to Eswatini's 1964 Marriage Act, the minimum age for marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys, with the provision for earlier marriage under special ministerial permission. However, the Children's Protection and Welfare Act of 2012 grants anyone under 18 the right to refuse any custom or traditional practice that could negatively impact them.

Despite legislation adopted, gender-based violence remains rife in Eswatini. The increase in reported cases across the country has further led to demands for the government to declare gender-based violence a national crisis. Civil society organisations such as Women Unlimited Eswatini and Swatini Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) work towards GBV prevention and victim rehabilitation, women’s economic empowerment and achieving gender equality in Eswatini. In 2022, Women Unlimited Eswatini spearheaded a capacity-building initiative training CSOs and thousands of women and girls on critical peacebuilding and conflict management skills needed to engage in peacebuilding processes. SWAGAA has contributed to GBV prevention and improving access to justice for GBV victims through school-based clubs where they teach young boys and girls about GBV and reproductive health, as well as a legal unit to guide survivors through Eswatini’s criminal justice system. In the months leading up to the September 2023 elections, SWAGAA supported female parliamentary candidates with sensitisation training and workshops on campaign strategy and conduct.


In the recently concluded polls in Eswatini, the number of women elected and appointed rose in the House of Assembly. As a result, the country saw a significant increase in female representation from 7.2% in 2018 to 17.1% in 2023. In the Senate, whose members are indirectly elected and appointed, women’s representation rose from 7 to 13. Senator Pastor Lindiwe Dlamini was re-elected President of the Senate. Despite the advances, women are underrepresented in politics, which is explained, in part, by the poorly implemented quota in practice.

Although challenges remain, Eswatini has adopted and implemented legislation and policies to advance women’s rights in politics and beyond, as well as female political leaders, women’s groups, and civil society organisations. Women’s Parliamentary Caucus works to increase women’s participation. Organisations such as SWAGAA supported female candidates in their campaign processes and strategy. Civil society organisations, female members of parliament, and other women leaders play a crucial role in advocating for women’s rights in Eswatini.

Women's Political Participation

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