Country Profile


Crossroads' Work in Swaziland

Crossroads International works with local organizations in Swaziland to reduce gender-based violence, improve women’s rights and to reduce the impact of HIV and AIDS. Violence against women is widespread in Swaziland. As a result, women are at increased risk for HIV infection. With a prevalence rate at 26.1 per cent, the highest rate in the world, the staggering scale of the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Swaziland is undermining all efforts to fight poverty.

We cannot afford to limit things to one NGO that doesn’t have sufficient resources. Each and every stakeholder has a role to play in combating violence.

- Nonhlanhla Dlamini. (SWAGAA)


Full Name: The Kingdom of Swaziland

Population: 1,2 million (UN, 2013)

Capital: Mbabane

Area: 17,364 sq km (6,704 sq miles)

Major languages: Swazi, English (both official)

Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs

Life Expectancy: 48,9 years (UN)

Monetary Unit: 1 Lilangeni = 100 cents

Main Exports: Sugar, wood pulp, minerals

GNI per capita: US $3,831 $  (World Bank, 2013)


The Kingdom of Swaziland is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies. The head of state is currently King Mswati III, who assumed the throne following the death of his father King Sobhuza II in 1986.

Swazi law and custom provides the King with supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The King maintains tight control over parliament and security forces. The country's parliament—the Libandla–consists of a Senate and a House of Assembly which function as an advisory body to the King. Parliamentarians are either appointed by the King or elected from constituencies (tinkhundla). Political parties have been banned in Swaziland since 1973.

Autonomy was granted by the British in the late 19th century and the country became independent in 1968. Student and labour movements in the 1990s achieved some political reforms and greater democracy. However, the King later backtracked on reforms.

The 1968 constitution was suspended in 1973 in a State of Emergency. From the early seventies on, there has been active resistance to the dominance of the monarchy. In 2006, a new constitution was put into effect, formalizing the monarch's hold on power, and protecting the monarchy from political challenge by opposition groups.

In this form of monarchy, there is no official opposition to challenge or suggest alternative government policy. Opposition at grassroots level  is emerging but anti-terrorism and intimidation by Swazi authorities are used to strike back.


Swaziland is primarily a rural nation. South Africa is Swaziland's main trading partner, purchasing 70 per cent of its exports and 90 per cent of its imports. About 350 chiefs preside over communities where 80 per cent of the population lives, mostly as subsistence farmers removed from commercial activity. More than 80 per cent of the population is involved in subsistence agriculture.

The country has a few large industries and agricultural plantations are in the hands of a few wealthy people. Agriculture accounts for 11.9 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, industry for 46.1 per cent and services for 41.9 percent.

Major exports include soft-drink concentrates, sugar, wood pulp, cotton yarn, refrigerators, citrus and canned fruit. Coca-Cola Ltd. has a significant presence in Swaziland.

Prior to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, Swaziland was a branch office economy for South African corporations seeking to get around sanctions. Post-apartheid, most of these companies moved back to South Africa and Swaziland’s economy declined.

The global economic crisis impacted particularly strongly on the sugar and wood pulp industries, the economic backbone of Swaziland. Unemployment continued to rise in 2009, particularly in the textile industry in which  four of 13 companies have closed. The majority of these workers were women.


The amount of land tilled and the level of agricultural productivity in Swaziland have dropped in recent years. Chronic poverty and food shortages are widespread with many people selling what assets they have to survive.

Ranked 142 out of 182 countries on the 2009 UN Human Development Index, 70 per cent of people in Swaziland live in severe poverty that is rapidly deepening because of AIDS. In 2007, 40 per cent of the population survived on food aid from the United Nations.

While Swaziland has received substantial assistance from AIDS organizations in recent years, including more than $100 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, its GNP per capita shuts it out of major development projects and World Bank grants.

Women’s Rights

According to the first survey of its kind released in 2007, one in every three female Swazis has experienced some form of sexual violence before turning 18. The figure rises to two out of three in the 18 to 24 age range.

Before a new constitution was adopted in 2006, Swazi women had the legal status of minors, and were unable to own property or open a bank account without the permission of a male relative or husband.

Social, economic and cultural practices create, enforce and perpetuate legalized gender inequalities and discrimination in all aspects of women’s lives.

Deeply entrenched gender inequities compound the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Swaziland. Women continue to be disproportionately vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Some blame worsening economic and humanitarian conditions in the country, along with the belief by some HIV-positive men that sleeping with a virgin girl can prevent AIDS, for the rise in violence against women and children.


Crossroads International gratefully acknowledges the support of: