The Federation of Women Lawyers ( FIDA ) is an organisation in Lesotho which exists to promote human rights with a view to empowering women and children.
The country has a long tradition of patriarchy with strong cultural values that make women and children vulnerable to injustice.
Since 1988, FIDA has been campaigning for legal reform which has brought about a good deal of positive change.
Over the last sixteen years, legislation has been developed that ensures women in Lesotho have a right to have their own property and resources; married women are now able to directly claim a pension; and a minimum wage has been introduced for domestic workers.
— Christine O’Byrne (@cobyrne703) July 28, 2014
As a result of the measures brought in to increase the status of women in Lesotho, the country is on target to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on gender equality.
This is not, however, a cause for celebration.
Whilst it is right that we recognise the progress that has been made in Lesotho, there remain some serious issues for Basotho women that urgently need to be addressed to ensure women and girls are protected under the law and have access to equal opportunities.
The recent Chieftainship case Senate Masupha vs the Senior Resident Magistrate and others highlights some of the challenges which remain for women in Lesotho.
This case seeks to award succession rights to the first born daughter of the since deceased Chief and Chieftainess of Ha ‘Mamathe, Thupa-Kubu and Joratane.
The country’s constitution embeds this discrimination by legislating to protect cultural beliefs. In this case, the belief is that a daughter cannot succeed the throne.
— WomenofWales (@WomenofWales) July 29, 2014
The rights of the wife in the case of their deceased spouse were granted protection when the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act was introduced in 2006.
So basically, it is not that a woman cannot be Chief but that where the title is handed down to the next generation, the Law states that it must be passed on to the first born son, bypassing any older sisters.
When this happens, all property rights are transferred also, leaving the fortunes of the women in the family completely in the hands of their male relatives, sometimes in-laws, who often do not protect their well-being.
The issue is that the decision to change inheritance rights requires a change in the national constitution.
The landmark case of Senate Masupha was taken to the High Court ( sitting as the Constitutional Court ) and then the Court of Appeal recently.
FIDA member lawyers made an application as friends of the court in support of Masupha to add weight to the case but the court still ruled against the claim.
Now, the organisation is taking the case to the African Commission in the hope of a positive verdict.
The issue is that the decision to change inheritance rights requires a change in the national constitution as there is an article which protects traditional culture and practices.
Despite ratifying the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Violence against Women ( CEDAW ) in 1995, the Government of Lesotho maintains a reservation to Article 2 in relation to culture and customary practices.
This article requires Governments to ensure laws and policies protect women and girls from discrimination.
The refusal of the Government of Lesotho to reform the constitution to prevent discrimination against women contravenes Article 2 and the CEDAW committee has urged the state to consider withdrawing this reservation to show full commitment to ensuring equal rights for women.
Written by Chwarae Teg’s Christine O’Byrne who worked in Lesotho – Africa, as part of Welsh Government’s Academi Wales programme.
Follow Christine on Twitter: @cobyrne703.
FIDA Lesotho website: fidalesotho.wordpress.com.
Related: A Woman’s Place, Lesotho.