Botswana Court Decision an Important Victory for Women’s Equality

Freedom House applauds the recent decision by the Botswana Courts to protect the right of women to inherit property. This decision is a victory for human rights and women’s rights advocates and sets an important legal precedent for the advancement of women’s eqaulity throughout the region. 

On September 3, the Botswana Court of Appeal issued a much anticipated judgment in Ramantele v Mmusi and Others, a case challenging a customary law that allows only men to inherit family homes. In their unanimous decision, the Court found that four sisters who were being threatened with eviction by male family members were legally entitled to inherit the land under customary law. The ruling stated that the section of the Botswana Constitution which exempts all personal law matters, including inheritance, from the general prohibition against discrimination does not allow discrimination that prejudices the rights and freedom of others. Appellant Court Justice Isaac Lestedi ruled that customary law is inherently flexible and that societal realities have changed over the last thirty years, adding there is “…no rational and justifiable basis for sticking to the narrow norms of days gone by when such norms go against current value systems.”

The Botswana Court’s ruling is an important step forward for women’s equality in the country, which still relies on customary law to adjudicate many legal issues, especially in areas that do not have access to formal courts. Moreover, the ruling sets a legal precedent in the country and throughout the region providing human and women’s rights advocates a powerful tool with which to challenge discriminatory practices. While Botswana is one of the countries considered ‘Free’ in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, women still face significant discrimination and gender-based violence is common.

Learn more:

Freedom in the World 2013: Botswana

Freedom of the Press 2013: Botswana

Blog: Freedom at Issue