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Textual representation of the social construction of womanhood and gendered identity: a case of selected Eswatini women poets.

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The patriarchal society of Eswatini entrenches numerous unfair practices against women. Cultural elements ensure that women are kept at a perpetual position of disadvantage. The socialisation of females and males at different levels of society, including in families and schools, promotes a social divide between the two sexes. The suffering of women epitomises coloniality; women serve the interest of men in the same way that the colonized served the interests of their masters. Since women’s voices have been systematically muted, they do not speak out against their oppression; women are the subalterns who cannot speak and thus they absorb their suffering in subdued silence. Moreover, they self-categorise with other women who are facing a similar plight. This research, therefore, sought to discover how poetic texts by selected Swati women poets represent the social construction of womanhood and gendered identity as a form of social action that contests the dominant discourses in society. Ten poems, spanning three decades, written by six women poets were selected on the basis of their feminist thematic content, an additional five oral poems were included to interface the discussion of the ten poems. The primary poetic texts were analysed by applying principles of interpretivism and narrative inquiry and by relating to cognitive poetics principles. Theories that guided the analysis of the poems were postcolonial theory, a wide range of feminist philosophies and selfcategorisation. Findings from the study revealed that poetic texts enable women poets to exploit figurative language as a vehicle to expose social ills that society perpetrates against women. Exposing the issues creates an opportunity to address those concerns that are considered taboo since it is ‘unSwati’ for women to speak out against women’s oppression. Findings from studying the poems revealed that: with the exception of a few confident women, generally, womenfolk in Eswatini are treated as domestic slaves; they suffer a myriad of abuses including emotional abuse, conjugal deprivation, physical abuse, sexual abuse and economic deprivation. Also, it was revealed that women’s abuse has negative effects on the youth and the society at large. In spite of these abuses, the texts showed that women in the country have a preferred identity. Furthermore, it was discovered that the key theoretical insights were significant in enabling an understanding of the construction of womanhood and gendered identity in Eswatini. While society has constructed womanhood to be a category of the oppressed, women poets, on the other hand, create a preferred identity of confident and independent women. It is recommended that similar research in future should include poems written by males, since men are implicated in the gendered oppression of women.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.