Johannesburg, 15 May – On 16 May, the Lesotho Constitutional Court will issue its decision on whether women in Lesotho can succeed in chieftainship. The case brought by Senate Masupha, the first-born child of a chief, challenged the Chieftainship Act, which only permits first-born sons to succeed to chieftainship.
“Denying all women the possibility of succeeding to chieftainship not only violates the right to equality under the Lesotho constitution but also reaffirms the notion that women are subordinate members of Lesotho society,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), who intervened as friends of the court (amicus curiae) in the matter. “We will see tomorrow whether the court will affirm the rights of women in Lesotho or further entrench women’s secondary status.”
In its submissions, SALC argued 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 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.