Ban on women chiefs in Lesotho must end

By Richard Lee | January 17th, 2012

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) today joined the fight to repeal parts of Lesotho’s discriminatory Chieftainship Act, which only allows the first-born son to succeed to chieftainship, by filing submissions in a landmark case that is due before the country’s Constitutional Court next month.

“Universally denying women the ability to succeed to chieftainship entrenches the view that women are subordinate members of society and is a fundamental breach of their constitutional rights,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of SALC. “In recent years, Lesotho has made significant progress in eradicating gender discrimination within society, including having abolished marital power. Giving women the opportunity to succeed to chieftainship would be another major step towards eradicating gender discrimination in Lesotho.”

SALC filed submissions in Masupha v Senior Resident Magistrate for the Subordinate Court of Berea and Others, challenging the blanket denial of women to succeed to chieftainship. The case is being brought by Senate Masupha, a first-born daughter of a chief, who is calling on the Constitutional Court to declare the relevant sections of the Chieftainship Act unconstitutional and permit women to succeed to chieftainship.

Intervening as amicus curiae (friends of the court), SALC’s submissions argue that the law is unconstitutional under the Lesotho Constitution as well as under Lesotho’s international and regional obligations. The submissions also document how laws that discriminate against women significantly harm the government’s ability to effectively respond to Lesotho’s HIV epidemic.

This case is part of a broader trend in the region to change or repeal laws which explicitly promote gender discrimination.

The Constitutional Court in South Africa has struck down laws which deny women the right to inherit and permitted women to succeed to chieftainship. In Botswana, the Court of Appeal in Attorney-General v Dow struck down a law denying children citizenship if only their mother was a Botswana citizen. 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 case will be heard in February with a decision expect in late 2012. 

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