Finding Refuge – The Challenge of Accessing Safe Housing in Eswatini

Finding Refuge – The Challenge of Accessing Safe Housing in Eswatini

In Eswatini, women encounter tremendous challenges when trying to leave an abusive household. They frequently face social pressures that tell them to stay in violent relationships and ‘make it work’ no matter how dire the circumstances. Often, women do not have the financial resources, including access to cash, bank accounts or employment opportunities, needed to leave a dangerous situation. 


Once married, it is common for women in Eswatini to live with their husband on his family’s property. Within Swazi customs, after marriage, a woman becomes the responsibility of the husband’s family. For this reason, many women who try to flee abusive homes are not allowed back into their natal home, leaving them with very few options for finding a safe place to go.


Some women will apply for an interdict, a court order that restrains their abusive partner from coming within a certain distance of them. For women that live with their husband’s family, this system often still requires them to find alternative housing as it is very difficult to evict the abusive partner from their childhood home.


And when children are involved, the situation becomes more complicated.


Without the support of family and friends or access to finances, it is near impossible for women to remove themselves, and their kids, from a violent household.  And leaving an abusive home does not mean the threat of violence is over, either. For many women, their abusive partner will continue to threaten them after they leave. Often times, these threats will become more violent – even to the point of death.


Safe houses, short- and long-term shelters where women and children can find refuge when leaving violent homes are nearly non-existent in Eswatini. Currently, the country does not have a single safe house that focuses on adults. There a four safe houses for children, but they often have age restrictions of 12 years and younger and do not meet the growing demands for safe housing across the country.


This desperate need for safe housing is one of the biggest challenges service providers and advocacy groups, like SWAGAA, face in Eswatini when trying to respond to cases of gender-based violence (GBV).


SWAGAA’s Care & Support department works directly with survivors of GBV to help connect them with available support services. From medical care and counselling services to financial aid and employment programs, survivors of gender-based violence need a comprehensive set of support services to help them recover and heal. Leaving a violent household is often the first step in recovery. Sadly, without access to safe houses, many women and children never get the chance to take it.

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