Check out below SALC’s Deputy Director ‘s piece in the City Press this weekend on the current rash of women’s rights cases in southern Africa. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

This month in Botswana, four elderly sisters get to breathe a sigh of relief.

Due to a bombshell judgment from the Botswana High Court, they were able to stave off an eviction from their home by other family members.

These women are not unique. Throughout southern Africa, women are dispossessed of property when their fathers or husbands die. However, what makes their situation remarkable is that when confronted with dispossession, they went to court and won.

The case brought by the four sisters challenged a local customary law rule that mandated that the family home, which in most cases is the bulk of the estate, went to the youngest son.

However, in this particular family, the youngest child was a woman, one of the applicants. The law though was clear: women did not inherit the family home under this regime.

The four sisters who had all lived on the property at various times, and had claimed they had assisted in renovating and expanding the home, challenged the rule, arguing that it violated their right to equality under the Botswana Constitution.

The attorney-general of Botswana had been asked by the court to present the government’s arguments in the matter.

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The Southern Africa Litigation Centre is pleased to share the report, Tackling Cervical Cancer: Improving Access to Cervical Cancer Services for Women in Southern Africa.  Cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among women in southern Africa, and is either the primary or secondary cause of cancer death among women in all 10 countries in which the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) works. Moreover, the negative impact of cervical cancer is exacerbated in southern Africa given the high prevalence of HIV among women in the region.

Cervical cancer is easily preventable and treatable in any resource setting. However, necessary services to prevent and treat cervical cancer have not been made available or easily accessible in southern Africa. The report, based on a combination of desktop research and field research in Namibia and Zambia on the availability of and access to cervical cancer services, found that very few countries in the region have comprehensive policies on cervical cancer. Essential prevention services such as screening and vaccination are also not widely available in the public health sector in most countries, and treatment for both pre-cancerous lesions and invasive cancer remains a challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

On 12 October 2012, the Botswana High Court struck down a customary law rule which denied women the right to inherit the family home. This is the first decision of its kind in Botswana. Read our summary of the judgment below. You can find the full judgment here. Read the rest of this entry »

The 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held in Yamoussoukro, Cote D’Ivoire from 9-22 October 2012, celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Commission.

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On Thursday, the Botswana High Court will issue judgment in Mmusi and Others v Ramantele and Others, a case challenging a customary law rule providing for male only inheritance of the family home. The judgment will address whether a rule which clearly discriminates against women violates the right to equality enshrined in the Botswana Constitution. The Court had requested the Attorney-General’s intervention in the matter. The Attorney-General argued that regardless of the fact that the rule was discriminatory, Botswana society was not ready for equality and thus the unequal rule must stand.

SALC will provide live updates from the courtroom via twitter (@Follow_SALC) on Thursday.

SALC’s work on cervical cancer benefitted from our attendance at the 6th Stop Cervical Cancer in Africa Conference (SCCA) which ended in Zambia on Tuesday the 24th of July 2012. The objective of the conference was to encourage participants to mobilise their governments to increase and secure funding for cervical cancer prevention.

The three day conference which focused on the theme “A New Era in Cervical Cancer Prevention” attracted over 1,000 participants from 25 countries, including Congo-Brazzaville, Belgium, Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. Among those who attended were the First Lady of Mozambique  Dr. Maria da Luz Guebuza,  First Lady of  Swaziland  Queen Nomsa LaMatsebula while the Congo Brazzaville, Gambia, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe sent representatives to the conference. Other attendees included researchers, health professionals, policy makers, cancer advocates and representatives from non-governmental organisations. Read the rest of this entry »

From 22 – 24 July 2012, SALC will be attending the 6th Stop Cervical Cancer in Africa Conference (SCCA) hosted by the Forum of African First Ladies Against Breast & Cervical Cancer in Zambia. 

SALC’s HIV Programme recently undertook research on the status of policies related to cervical cancer, as well as the availability of and access to prevention and treatment services in southern African countries, using Namibia and Zambia as case studies. 

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in southern Africa where the negative impact of the disease is worsened by the high prevalence of HIV among women. Globally, more than 13 million women are infected with both HIV and the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. Yet services for these women in southern Africa are extremely limited, both in terms of finances and the science available. 

The three day conference will focus on the theme: “A New Era in Cervical Cancer Prevention.” The Forum of African First Ladies whose objective is to reduce the burden of the disease by raising awareness through education is comprised of twelve African first ladies. The Forum has been campaigning for access to medical resources to protect women in Africa from fatal diseases through the previous SCCA conferences. So far the SCCA has increased visibility of cervical cancer in Africa through support from a variety of national and international stakeholders such as Ministers of Health, advocates and survivors. The conferences also facilitate the lobbying of African presidents and governments, parliaments and religious institutions for cultural and policy change.  Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, the High Court in Botswana heard final arguments in a case challenging the Ngwaketse customary law rule which permits only for male inheritance of the family home. Previously, the Court had formally requested the Attorney General to make submissions in the matter. Yesterday was scheduled to hear oral submissions from the Attorney General and the responses of the applicant and 1st respondent to those submissions.

However, in the end the advocate representing the Attorney General spoke for 3 minutes, merely saying that though the rule was discriminatory, such discrimination was provided for under the Constitution and thus the rule should be upheld. He then relied on his written submissions.

So what did the Attorney General say in her written submissions? Basically, that the rule may be discriminatory but that it was still constitutional. She argues that there are two articles in the Constitution which protect against discrimination: section 3 which guarantees equal protection and section 15 which protects against discrimination on the basis of sex. The applicants rely only on section 3 in making their arguments because section 15 does protect against discrimination on the basis of sex, but then under section 15(4)(c) which provides for an exception to matters involving devolution of property upon death. The Attorney General argues that you cannot separate section 3 and section 15 and that the exceptions under section 15 should apply to claims under section 3.

However, there is significant case law supporting the contrary–that the exceptions under section 15 only apply to claims under section 15. For example, the Court of Appeal in Attorney General v Dow, noted that the exceptions under section 15 only applied to section 15. This has been followed by numerous courts in Botswana since, including the High Court in Kamanakao I v Attorney General and the Industrial Court in Moatswi and Another v Fencing Centre (Pty) Ltd.

This though was the primary issue in which the Judge was interested having raised it at the initial oral arguments and again yesterday. It was unclear by the end of the day which way this case is going, but we expect a decision later this year.

On Thursday, the High Court will hear further arguments in Mmusi and Others v Ramantele and Another, a case challenging the Ngwaketse customary law rule providing only for male inheritance of the family homeAs followers of the case will remember, the High Court heard initial arguments in the matter on 14 May 2012. At that time, Judge Oagile Dingake formally requested the Attorney General to weigh in on the matter. On 12 June 2012, the Attorney General filed her submissions. In the submissions, she argued that Botswana society was not ready for equality between men and women and thus the discriminatory customary law rule should be upheld. The applicants filed supplementary heads of argument responding to these claims.

Tomorrow, both parties will present their oral submissions to the High Court. Arguments will start at 9:30am, though if past experience is any indicator it is likely arguments will start later. You can follow live updates from the arguments on SALC’s twitter feed (@Follow_SALC).

Yesterday, the Botswana High Court heard arguments in Mmusi and Others v Ramantele and Another, a case challenging the Ngwaketse customary law rule which provides for male-only inheritance of the family home. You can read the case summary here.

The case, before Judge Oagile Dingake, began after Judge Dingake heard over a dozen cases which were on the motion roll. Basically, this means he dealt with housekeeping related to these cases: setting dates for hearing of certain matters; issuing orders to various parties to file their papers; and overseeing the nitty gritty of divorces. Once that was over, we got started.

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