17 April 2014

Lesotho: Dark Day for Women's Rights in Lesotho

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/IRIN
Women collect water from a communal tap in the village of Ha Rantismane in Lesotho’s mountainous Thaba-Tseka District (file photo).

Johannesburg — Lesotho’s highest court today struck a serious blow against women’s rights and gender equality by upholding a discriminatory section of the Chieftainship Act, which denies daughters the right to succeed to chieftainship solely due to their gender.

“This is a dark day for women in Lesotho. Through its judgment, the Court of Appeal has re-affirmed that women remain second-class citizens in Lesotho,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which intervened as a friend of the court (amicus curiae) in the matter. “In recent years, Lesotho had made significant strides towards eradicating gender discrimination, by ending male marital power among other things. But this ruling sends a clear signal that it is still permissible to discriminate against women solely because they are women.”

The case, Masupha v The Senior Resident Magistrate for the Subordinate Court of Berea and Others, was an appeal from the decision of the Constitutional Court, which also upheld the law denying women the ability to succeed to chieftainship.

The case was brought by Senate Masupha, the first-born child of a chief. Upon her father’s death, her mother was appointed as caretaker of the chieftainship. Following her mother’s death, the chieftainship was contested between Masupha’s uncle and half-brother. Masupha intervened seeking to succeed to the chieftainship as she was the first-born child. However, she was denied the right to succeed solely on the basis of her gender.

The decision goes against the trend on the continent of courts upholding the rights of women. The Constitutional Court in South Africa has struck down laws which deny women the right to inherit or succeed to chieftainship. In Botswana, the Court of Appeal recently affirmed that any customary law discriminating against women solely on the basis of their gender would be unlawful. Courts in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania have also all struck down laws which deny women the right to inherit due solely to their gender.

“We hope that parliament will now act to ensure that women are equal to men with respect to chieftainship as the Court of Appeal has clearly failed to do so,” said Patel.

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