All Basotho are equal but Basotho men are more equal than women

Women in Lesotho should be celebrating another step towards true equality this week. And some of them should be preparing for Chieftainship. But they’re not. Instead the cause of women’s rights has suffered a severe blow – thanks to the reactionary ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court in the .

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

May 20th, 2013

Women in Lesotho should be celebrating another step towards true equality this week. And some of them should be preparing for Chieftainship. But they’re not. Instead the cause of women’s rights has suffered a severe blow – thanks to the reactionary ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court in the .

Arguing as only lawyers can that preventing women from becoming chiefs solely because of their gender was merely, the justices ruled that the archaic (and clearly discriminatory and unconstitutional) male-only-chieftaincy system must remain in place.

Sadly, the country’s highest court sided with the patriarchal dictates of ‘customary law’ rather than the constitutional right to equality – in complete contrast to a that made it clear that the constitution trumps custom when it comes to issues of (in)equality.

And what makes the decision worse is that this ruling runs contrary to the trend in recent years. Not only has Lesotho taken some significant steps towards greater equality, but courts across the region have also made progressive judgements on similar issues. Indeed, the South African Constitutional Court ruled that women could become chiefs in a landmark 2008 case.

It is unclear whether Senate Masupha will pursue the case any further. But what is crystal clear is that gender equality in Lesotho is still a long way from being realised. The hope was that the country’s top judges would show the way – and that the society would then follow. But clearly the judges aren’t convinced that women are really equal, despite what the country’s supreme law might say about equality.

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