Botswana: Women found equal under constitution (BBC, IRIN)

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In a landmark decision, Justice Key Dingake of Botswana’s High Court ruled that “Discrimination against gender has no place in our modern day society.” He was delivering the verdict in an inheritance case brought, and won, by three elderly sisters.

Although Botswana’s constitution guarantees equality for men and women, customary laws favour males in inheritance issues. Before the October 12 ruling, the right to inherit the family home and land fell to male relatives.

In this case, the three women contested their nephew’s claim that the property rights should be transferred to him. The case has taken five years to pass through the legal system, after starting in the customary courts in 2007.

Athalia Molokomme, Botswana’s female Attorney General, had argued that the country was not ready for gender equality. Priti Patel works for the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. She said in a statement that this ruling “ … sends a very strong signal that women in Botswana cannot be discriminated against, and that the days of women suffering from secondary status under the law in Botswana are drawing to an end.”

Customary law in many African countries stops women from inheriting properties. But Justice Dingake commented, “It seems to me that the time has now arisen for the justices of this court to assume the role of the judicial midwife and assist in the birth of a new world struggling to be born.”

To listen to a BBC World Service Africa Today news item with in-depth interviews on this case, click this link: