Women should “stand up” and take advantage of proposed reforms to the country’s constitution by lobbying for the abolition of discriminatory clauses pertaining to inheritance, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has said.
A self-confessed champion of women’s rights, Dr Mosisili says rights groups should capitalise on these reforms to do away with discriminatory clauses that marginalise women and are archaic as “they do not even conform to international standards”.
“Issues pertaining to inheritance affect women directly, but more often than not, they are sidelined from discussions and decisions made in relation to inheritance. Only men have the right to discuss these issues, which should never be the case,” Dr Mosisili said as he addressed an African Women’s Month celebration in Berea last Saturday.
The commemoration, organised by women’s leagues of the seven political parties comprising his coalition government, was held under the theme ‘Empowering the African Woman: Against HIV/AIDS, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Inheritance Based Discrimination against Women and Girls’.
According to the Democratic Congress (DC) leader, in order to advance their interests, men hide behind the “outdated” culture which dictates that women are inferior and should therefore not be engaged where inheritance issues are concerned.
“In Lesotho, men hide behind this purported Sesotho culture to exact this type of discrimination against women. Maybe it is high time that women faced this challenge head on so that women together with men, they can find lasting solutions for our children’s sake, for justice’s sake. This coalition government is soon to spearhead reforms to Lesotho’s constitution. I am, therefore, taking this opportunity to invite all the men and women of Lesotho, to stand and join this noble cause to eliminate all the clauses that make provision for the discrimination of women using culture as an excuse,” said Dr Mosisili, whose DC formed a coalition government with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), National Independent Party (NIP), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) after the 28 February 2015 snap elections had produced a hung parliament.
Quoting from the Book of Numbers in the Bible, the premier went on to recite Chapter 36: 8-13 which states: “And every daughter, that possess an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers.
“Neither shall the inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; but every one of the tribes of the children of Israel shall keep himself to his own inheritance.
“Even as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad: For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father’s brothers’ sons: And they were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father.
“These are the commandments and the judgments, which the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.”
Dr Mosisili added: “This means that this Bible of mine recognizes that there are girls born as heiresses and are therefore worthy of inheritance.”
The Director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) Lesotho, Libakiso Matlho, said she only had praise for Dr Mosisili for showing the political will to transform women’s lives.
WLSA Lesotho, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), is part of the WLSA Regional Organisation established in 1989 and operational in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In Lesotho, WLSA Lesotho is registered under the Lesotho Societies Act of 2001.
The NGO seeks to promote and protect women’s human rights in a socioeconomic, legal and political context through active research, lobby and advocacy.
“Anything is possible where there’s political will. We have long been calling for inheritance laws to be reviewed. I applaud the prime minister for his speech; it means we’re moving in the right direction,” Ms Matlho said.
“If today the PM is also calling for a review of the laws in question, then it is going to be easy for us to lobby for change. This, we will achieve by, among others, encouraging women in political circles to use their influence as well.”
Ms Matlho added WLSA was already following this year’s theme—that the time has come for the African woman “to get the same recognition as the African man”.
“The time has come for the African woman to get the same respect and recognition. We recently attended a SADC summit where a similar call was made that the African girl-child should be entitled to inheritance,” Ms Matlho said.
“We are also hoping to capitalise on the proposed constitutional reforms to introduce these changes. In fact, the constitution should do away with all types of discrimination.”
Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Lesotho Director, Thusoana Ntlama, echoed similar sentiments.
“The prime minister should be praised for his stance; we will be with him, supporting him.
“We will accept this invitation and support him all the way. Discriminatory laws should be reviewed so that unmarried women and girls become entitled to inheritance,” Ms Ntlama said.
“As FIDA, we’re already advocating for such laws to be repealed to allow for girls and women to enjoy the same rights as men.”
However, Ms Ntlama was quick to add Dr Mosisili should also have called for the abolition of Section (10) of the Chieftainship Act No22 of 1968, which prohibits daughters from succeeding their fathers as chiefs, solely on the basis of their gender.
“The prime minister should also have addressed this Act, which still discriminates against girl-children, going against Lesotho’s commitment internationally to review such laws,” Ms Ntlama said.
“We will join him in this cause, but he should also remember to address this clause.”
In September 2014, Princess Senate Masupha, FIDA-Lesotho and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), submitted a complaint to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, challenging Lesotho’s law that provides for male-only succession to the chieftainship.
Ms Masupha, the first born child of the Ha-Mmamathe in the Berea District, is challenging Section 10 of the Chieftainship Act No. 22 of 1968. Ms Masupha had previously challenged the law in the Lesotho Constitutional Court and Court of Appeal arguing it violated her constitutional rights.
SALC intervened as amicus curiae (someone who is not a party to a case and offers information that bears on the case, but has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist). The domestic courts upheld the law, ruling it did not amount to unfair discrimination.