One of Arlette Gold’s family of jewellery makers, Quazi Design is based in Mbabane, the capital city of beautiful-yet-troubled Swaziland. The company was established to empower women in a country whose record on equal rights and female economic independence is poor, and they now create ingenious earrings, necklaces, rings and bangles from waste magazines, recycled brass and glass, and even layers of paper, all of which tell a personal, original story.
Swaziland is a tiny, landlocked country, smaller than the US state of New Jersey, with a population of about 1.3 million people. It’s one of the poorest countries in Africa. Unemployment is at an estimated 40 per cent, and life expectancy is low; 54 years for men and 60 for women.
Women in Swaziland are treated as subordinates both socially and economically. Historically Swazi women have lacked any legal rights. They couldn’t buy, sell, or own land, and required written consent from their husbands to acquire a bank loan. In 2006 the Swazi government passed a law to address this, technically making women legally equal to men, but Swazi customs and tradition overshadowed the amendment.
Girls are under pressure to drop out of school to look after their household. Their lack of education and the expectation of domesticity leave them dependent on their fathers or husbands. The country has the world’s highest prevalence rate for HIV/Aids, especially in women – 31 percent of Swazi women have been diagnosed with HIV, with the actual figure believed to be higher. A whopping 71 percent of female sex workers are HIV-positive; many women are driven to this field of work due to the limited opportunities to earn a decent wage anywhere else.
Quazi Design founder Doron Shaltiel employs local women to handcraft sustainable, innovative jewellery from waste magazines and recycled brass, and full-time, permanent contracts, job security and a living wage allows them to support their families giving them economic freedom. For example, artisan Zandi’s salary supports her daughter, sister, niece and mother, while artisan Bonsile’s salary supports four dependents and pays three sets of school fees.
Alongside learning a new craft, skill sharing and teaching others, this empowers them. Women supporting women. “To teach each other is the best way to support each other” says Bonsile.
Quazi believes that craftsmanship and ethical production is vital to Africa’s economic success, and the handcrafted sector in Swaziland is thriving. A founding member of SWIFT – Swaziland Fair Trade – they source only locally sourced, environmentally friendly waste and energy use is kept to a minimum.
The European Union in Swaziland has announced a three-year plan to help promote women’s rights in the country. The plan, Supporting Women Empowerment & Equality in Swaziland (SWEES), aims to create an environment where women can finally receive equal rights.
While the details of this plan are not yet concrete, hopefully it will serve as a way to push the Swazi government to put more resources into empowering women and allowing them to thrive.