File photo: Lesotho's Prime Minister Tom Thabane addresses the high level meeting on rule of law in the United Nations General Assembly. Salc said the decision went against the trend on the continent of courts upholding womens rights.

Maseru - Lesotho’s highest court this week “struck a serious blow against women’s rights and gender equality” by ruling that chiefs’ daughters could not themselves become chiefs.

The court of appeal upheld a discriminatory section of the Chieftainship Act, rejecting an appeal by Senate Masupha, first-born child of a chief, against a decision of the constitutional court.

After her father died, Masupha’s mother was appointed caretaker of the chieftainship. When her mother died, Masupha’s uncle and half-brother contested the chieftainship.

Masupha intervened, seeking to succeed to it as she was the eldest, but she was denied that right solely because of her gender.

She took this to a lower court and lost, appealed to the constitutional court where she lost again and on Thursday, lost a third time in the court of appeal.

“This is a dark day for women in Lesotho,”said Priti Patel, deputy director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc), which intervened as a friend of the court.

“Through its judgment, the Court of Appeal has reaffirmed that women remain second-class citizens in Lesotho.

“In recent years, Lesotho had made significant strides towards eradicating gender discrimination by ending male marital power among other things. But this ruling sends a clear signal that it is still permissible to discriminate against women solely because they are women.”

Salc said the decision went against the trend on the continent of courts upholding women’s rights. - Independent Foreign Service