Botswanan Court Decision a Victory for Women’s Rights
Freedom House applauds the recent decision by a Botswana High Court invalidating a customary law which prevents women from inheriting property. This seminal judgment signifies an important step forward in the further development of Botswana’s democracy and is a powerful precedent for the advancement of women’s rights in Southern Africa.
Following a five-year legal battle, a high court judge in Gaborone ruled that Edith Mmusi and her sisters had the legal right to inherit their family’s property. Their claim was initially challenged by Ms. Mmusi’s half-brother who claimed rightful ownership of the property under the area’s customary law, which provides only for inheritance by males. After initially losing their claim in a customary court in 2007, the plaintiffs appealed through the country’s civil court system. On Friday, the high court overturned the customary court’s ruling, relying on Section 3 of Botswana’s constitution, which guarantees equal rights to all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on gender. The case was brought to the high court with support from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), a regional legal organization based in South Africa.
Friday’s ruling signifies a growing trend in the region, as courts across Southern Africa grapple with the conflict between the rights of women in customary law and the rights granted to women in common law and post-independence constitutions. In recent months, a Constitutional Court in Lesotho heard a case by a female chief challenging the discriminatory laws on succession, and Swaziland passed a progressive law prohibiting child brides. Legal experts have applauded the Botswana ruling, asserting that it provides women’s rights advocates an important legal precedent to protect the rights of women throughout Southern Africa. For the past several years, Freedom House has actively supported important public interest litigation similar to the case in Botswana by lawyers and civil society to advance the cause of human rights throughout Southern Africa.
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Freedom of the Press 2011: Botswana