Lesotho court fails women

Constitutional court rules women can't be chiefs

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

May 15th, 2013

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

“This is a dark day for women in Lesotho. The Constitutional Court has basically re-affirmed the view that women are 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. Today’s decision is a significant step backwards for Lesotho in achieving gender equality.”

The case, Masupha v The Senior Resident Magistrate for the Subordinate Court of Berea and Others, 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 High Court recently struck down a customary law which denied women the right to inherit. 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.

The parties can appeal the judgment to the Court of Appeal.

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