Lesotho: Efforts towards women empowerment

Lindiwe Sephomolo, Chairperson, Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), June 19, 2002.

Like many African countries, political differences are strongly prevalent in Lesotho. This is due partly to an inadequate understanding of democracy and the unwillingness of leaders to accept the practical implications of the democratic system of governance. One could argue that a lack of women's representation in government, especially within high level ministerial and legislative bodies, has contributed to a neglect of developmental issues that impact significantly on the livelihood of the Basotho people.

The Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Lesotho), through a Political Empowerment of Women Project has over the years and prior to May 2002, encouraged women to join the political arena and other decision-making bodies.

As a non-government organisation, FIDA monitored the first Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Representation election of Lesotho this past month. FIDA's general observation concluded that the elections were prima facie free, transparent and fair.

Statistics from the Independent Electoral Commission show that 117 women stood for election and only 10 have succeeded in obtaining the 120 parliamentary seats. This means that Lesotho has still not achieved the SADC goal of 30% representation of women in politics and decision-making authority.

In 1998 the Prime Minister introduced a new portfolio into the cabinet, that being the Ministry of Gender Environment and Youth, headed by a female Minister with an additional woman Minister of Health appointed in 2001. Further to this, the Prime Minister has introduced two deputy ministerial posts, of which Justice and Human Rights, a key portfolio in the development of the country, is occupied by Ms Mpeo Mahase. The lady speaker of parliament has also retained her position in the new government.

Generally women are considered as the peacemakers and nurturers of society. In Lesotho, women have also tended to have higher literacy rates than men, and play a predominant role as heads of households. FIDA will continue with its political empowerment programmes for women to increase women's entry into politics. Together with key figures in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the Ministry of Gender Environment and Youth Affairs, FIDA will further advocate and lobby for the reform of laws that promote the legal status of women in Lesotho. It would seem, however, that far more action will be required to increase women's participation in governance and the democratic process.