Johannesburg - Married women in eSwatini are now equal to their husbands following a historic high court ruling that the previous common law doctrine of marital power was offensive to women’s constitutional rights to dignity and equality.

The ruling last Friday means that married women will no longer need to seek the consent of their husbands in dealing with marital assets and administering property. Furthermore, they will be able to represent themselves in civil suits, Swazimedia Blogspot reported.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) reported the court struck down sections 24 and 25 of the Marriage Act to the extent that it provided that marriages were governed by common law “unless both parties to the marriage are African in which case the marital power of the husband and proprietary rights of the spouses shall be governed by Swazi law and custom”.

“Relying on recent judgments by the Botswana and India courts relating to the criminalisation of sexual orientation, the eSwatini High Court emphasised that dignity is an essential element of respect and honour and being subjected to marital power and minority status denies women their right to dignity,” said the SALC.

Colani Hlatjwayo, the executive director of Women and Law Southern Africa-Swaziland, added that the judgment basically declared the common law doctrine of marital power unconstitutional and that the case was an important step towards marriage equality.

ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) previously stated in a briefing paper on women’s rights in the country that "Swaziland has a deeply patriarchal society, where polygamy and violence against women are normalised, deeply unequal cultural and religious norms, and a male monarch who is unwilling to make any change. All this contributes towards the daily discrimination faced by women".

African News Agency/ANA