12 October 2012

Botswana: Huge Boost for Women's Rights

Photo: World Bank
A woman holds her baby in Botswana.

The Botswana High Court today provided a huge boost to the struggle for gender equality in Botswana by striking down a discriminatory customary law that only allowed men to inherit the family home.

In a landmark case, the High Court ruled that the customary law discriminated against women and so was unconstitutional. Critically, the judge made it clear that discrimination cannot be justified on cultural grounds before rejecting the argument put forward by the Attorney General that Botswana society was not ready for equality.

"This landmark decision sets a clear precedent and sends a very strong signal that women in Botswana cannot be discriminated against and that the days of women suffering from secondary status under the law in Botswana are drawing to an end," said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported the case.

The case - Mmusi and Others v Ramantele and Others - challenged a Ngwaketse customary law that grants the youngest born son the right to inherit the family home, which clearly violates the right to equality enshrined in Section 3 of the Botswana Constitution.

At issue was the claim by Edith Mmusi and her two sisters, all of whom are over 65 years old, that they have lived in the family home and have spent their money on improving the homestead and thus should inherit it. Their claim was being challenged by their nephew based on the discriminatory inheritance law.

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