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Ending discrimination against women

MANY human rights activists are vocal on the realisation of the recently adopted Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development calling for at least 50 percent representation of women in decision-making positions in public and private sectors.

But there is a chilling silence on the fact that Lesotho maintains reservation on Article 2 of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Now that Lesotho shall be under review within the framework of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women of the United Nations in October this year, it may be appropriate to interrogate our self-professed commitment to advancing women’s lot.

According to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Lesotho, a girlchild may not inherit the throne in the case of Head of State and office in the case of chief. 

This is embodied in Section 18 (4) (c) of the Constitution which tolerates discrimination as long as it is done within the customary law. 

While the government has been bold enough to accept CEDAW with  reservations to its Article two in 1992, it found it easy to act differently and put up with Article 3 (b) of the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development which seeks to harmonise this Protocol on the one hand and CEDAW and others on the other. 

Further the government found nothing strange with Article 7 (b) of the Protocol which states that the steps to be taken by State parties to promote the status of women shall be legislating for equal legal status and capacity in civil and customary law, including, amongst other things full contractual rights, the right to acquire and hold rights in property, the right to equal inheritance and the right to secure credit. 

The question is therefore what it is that the government finds bad in Article 2 of the CEDAW which provides that State parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and to this end undertake among others to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women, which it does not see in the Sadc Protocol?

It is expected that the government would not have its answer in the affirmative when it is questioned by the UN Committee in Geneva in October whether the reservation on Article 2 of the CEDAW would be withdrawn.

The government has removed all its objections to Article 2 save for one about the equality of males and females in the inheritance of the throne and office of chief.

This may be what Basotho want and even support, but what is the point in refusing it when it appears under CEDAW and endorse the same when it appears under Sadc Protocol?

Besides that this makes a joke of the Kingdom on the international stage. It sends a signal that our leadership is not fully converted, rather they are a half-baked group of believers. 

We parade ourselves as heroes in Europe by refusing to endorse Article 2 of CEDAW.

But in the sub-region we have the SADC Protocol which advocates the same thing as a quick reference, which puts into question our commitment to ending discrimination against women. 

It would be degrading for the delegation of the government of Lesotho to stand up in Geneva to defend the reservation while that reservation has been rendered redundant by our embracing of the Sadc Protocol.

The culture of reporting to international human rights bodies is weak in Lesotho. 

This has been picked up by the African Peer Review Mechanism Panel of Experts as one bad mark of Lesotho under international obligations. 

Perhaps this calls for a special office whether it be housed in the Ministry of Justice or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that will be responsible not only for periodic but coherent and well-coordinated international reporting. 

This reminds one of the recent review that Lesotho went through under Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Under the recommendations of the session that Lesotho government rejected was one which encouraged the country to work hard to combat human trafficking. 

This was lamentable because the government of the Kingdom under the leadership of the Ministry of Gender has mobilised civil society and other ministries to stand up against this pandemic and a lot of good work was done during the Fifa World Cup in South Africa last year.

The government is not only committed to fighting but it is also contemplating legislation. 

It is really disgusting that we have in our official position in the international platform rejected recommendation which is in line with what the government is doing.

Further Chapter IV 40(2) of the Constitution of Lesotho extends opportunity for a woman married to a Lesotho male citizen to qualify for citizenship upon application. 

The same opportunity does not exist for a foreign male married to a Mosotho female. This understanding is entrenched in the customary understanding that a Mosotho female does not marry but she is married.

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