"Sowungumuntfukenyalo' - "You are now a real person" : a feminist analysis of how women's identities and personhood are constructed by societal perceptions on fertility in the Swazi patriarchal family.
This study postulates that in Swaziland, socio-cultural religious constructions are embedded in patriarchal structures and systems that uphold and reinforce inequalities between women and men. Conventional values, attitudes and practices are held firmly in intrafamilial relations to ensure continuity of unequal gender constructs. Shaped by this patriarchal worldview, Swazi society places a high value on childbearing as a means to perpetuate the bloodline of the father, and for social cohesion. Hence, a woman is only “umuntfu”, a “real” person through her reproductive abilities. Framed within an exploratory and critical feminist research paradigm, the purpose of this qualitative study was therefore to ascertain the relationship between fertility and socio-cultural religious constructions of Swazi women‟s personhood. Data were produced from primary sources employing qualitative methodology of interviews and focus group discussions. Through in-depth interviews with a purposively selected sample of participants from three locations in Manzini, Swaziland, the study empirically linked women‟s personhood and identity to socio-cultural religious constructions on fertility. The research findings indicate the significance attached to women‟s fertility as being defined by socio-cultural religious beliefs and values that are reinforced through socialising agents. Thus, a woman‟s ability to bear children (preferably at least one son), grants her status to become a “real” woman, on which her identity and personhood is built. Her “achieved” identity or personhood therefore becomes an interpretation of being human amongst others. Findings further reveal that this conventional patriarchal discourse is embedded into the psyche of most Swazi women, such that they readily internalise it in defining themselves as worthless without fulfilling the “motherhood mandate”. However, there are women who feel robbed of their self-identity by being defined as exclusively suited for procreation, resulting in a tension between a self-identity ethic and the communitarian and familial ethic. Since identity and personhood always hold the possibility of refinement and reformulation, it is contended in this study that socialisation agents in the Swazi society which breed, reinforce and monitor socio-cultural religious constructions on women‟s fertility be re-examined using feminist lenses. This study argues that a recognition of the manifestations of the injustices of patriarchy in these social structures would consequently provoke advocacy and the implementation of a new feminist cultural orientation that would attach worth to Swazi women for who they are, and not only for their reproductive capabilities. As the Swazi adage notes, “Maswati, lenaakubeyindzabayetfusonkhe!” – (“Swazis, let this be of concern to all of us!”)
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