Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
In 2010, Senate Masupha brought a landmark case to Lesotho’s Constitutional Court when she challenged the Kingdom’s Chieftainship Act, which only allows men to inherit chieftainship. Masupha and her lawyers argued that the Act is unconstitutional, on the basis that it discriminates against a girl-child.
Senate Masupha is the daughter and only child of David Masupha and ‘Masenate Masupha. David Masupha was the Principal Chief of Ha Mamathe, Teyateyaneng,Thupa-Kubu and Jorotane, and when he passed away in 1996, his wife took over his role. In 2008, ‘Masenate Masupha passed away, and a number of relatives began to fight over the question of who would inherit the chieftainship. Senate Masupha stood her ground firmly and insisted that as the first-born child, she had the right to be the successor.
In 2012, the Constitutional Court pronounced its judgement on the matter: it concluded that the Act was justifiable and reasonable in the context of Lesotho’s culture. Masupha’s case was therefore dismissed, and she was denied the right to inherit the chieftainship. However, the Court also noted that Lesotho is “lagging behind” in the implementation of gender equality policies, and that it was time the country shifted away from the “undesirable outcomes of customary law”.
Undeterred by the judgement, Masupha and her legal team took the case to the country’s Court of Appeal, but once again the case was dismissed. This time, the Court stated that the modernising of the Act was a matter that would need to be dealt with in Parliament.
“I hope that at some point the government will take responsibility and abolish these retrogressive laws,” says Masupha. “There exists a conflict in Lesotho’s politics, in which claims to culture are undermining, marginalizing and overriding the value of gender equality.”
“This is a national problem, because Lesotho is regarded as a state that is undermining its international obligations and commitments. We have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as other regional and international treaties that protect women’s rights. And yet discriminatory practices continue to be carried out, simply in the name of culture.”
“The law cannot be selective when it comes to the protection of human rights. Until Lesotho gets rid of its retrogressive laws, I don’t see how there can be true liberation for women in this country.”
“Women and men must be educated to better understand the legal instruments that promote and protect women’s rights. The economic empowerment of women at the grassroots level also needs to be promoted and facilitated.”
“My call to the Government of Lesotho is to eliminate these abhorrent patriarchal practices which continue to marginalise and discriminate against women and girls. Lesotho must honour its political regional and international commitments. We need a solid and broad movement that addresses these inequities, celebrates women and girls, and builds a momentum that will continue in future generations.”