Lesotho: Women's representation quotas
Updated May 2008
Lesotho has no constitutional or legal quotas for the election of the National Assembly (EISA 2008, 19). The language of the constitution is masculine; for instance Article 4(1) reads in part, "every person in Lesotho is entitled, whatever his race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status to fundamental human rights and freedoms" [emphasis writer's]. Not withstanding this, there is a recognition that matters cannot stand as they are. In its Lesotho Report: African Union Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2006, 8) the Government observed:
Politics in Lesotho are generally a male-dominated affair; since Independence in 1966, Lesotho's Parliaments have had minimal representation of women. This imbalance in representation stems from cultural norms in Lesotho where women have been systematically excluded from participating in political affairs. The patriarchal nature of the Basotho society confers decision-making powers and headship on males and contributes largely to the absence of women in mainstream politics.
A beginning was made to the introduction of temporary quotas for women by reserving one-third of the local government level electoral divisions for women (EISA 2008, 19; Gender Links Undated, 3). The provisions in the Local Government Elections Act (section 26 (1)) were contested by a prospective male electoral candidate as unconstitutional, since they excluded the candidate from standing in a particular electoral division on the basis of his sex, but the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of High Court and the validity of the legislation on the basis that "women in Lesotho had long been disadvantaged and marginalised socially, economically and even politically" (LENA 2005). The court declared that the provisions of the Lesotho constitution were aimed at substantive rather than merely formal equality of citizens (LENA 2005). The result of quotas on the outcome of the elections was significant; women formed 58% of the representatives in the community councils and district councils and took significant leadership roles in the local government structures (Government of Lesotho 2006, 10, 11).
Lesotho has a mixed member compensatory system for the election of the members of the National Assembly, with two-thirds of the members contesting elections in constituency elections determined by plurality and the other third allocated on the basis of party lists so as to secure a measure of proportionality in the House. The plurality elections, as in countries such as Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe tend to severely under represent women, while the party lists bring some of the possibilities for making gains for women similar to those of proportional representation systems such as those of Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa (see Gender issues: Women's representation in the Lower House of Parliament). Women in Lesotho have gained some ground in the National Assembly, with representation rising from a meagre 3.8% in 1998 when a purely plurality system was used to 7.63% in 2002 after the mixed member system was introduced and then more dramatically to 25% after the 2007 election.
The key to the improvement of women's representation in proportional electoral systems in the above instances has been the adoption of quotas by parties themselves and in plurality based elections, finding ways to promote women's candidatures generally and securing them constituencies that can be won. None of the parties in Lesotho have adopted formal quotas for their list candidates, though the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) adopted internal party leadership policies aimed at improving women's represention both inside the party leadership and in parliament (see "Party leadership quotas" below).
In the 2007 election all the LCD members of the National Assembly were returned through constituency elections and 21% of those elected were women, while their National Independent Party (NIP) alliance partner, which supplied the compensatory seat list, had 52% of its members as women (see Women's representation in the 2007 National Assembly. This gave the LCD/NIP alliance a combined 29% rate for women's representation. On the other hand the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC), which also returned all its members through constituency elections, returned no women members at all. Its Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) alliance partner, which supplied the compensatory seat list, had 30% of its members as women, giving the ABC/LWP alliance a 19% rate for women's representation.
In 2007 National Assembly election, according to the EISA Observer Mission Report (2008, 20) only 17.3% of constituency candidates were women and though 33% of list candidates were women, these were not as well placed on the lists as men; nevertheless half the women members of the National Assembly were elected through the party lists.
Party leadership quotas
If gains are to be made in women's representation at a national level then the under representation of women within leadership structures of the political parties has to be addressed. The Government noted in the Lesotho Report: African Union Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2006, 8) that:
Current statistics of political parties in Lesotho indicate that the numbers of women in the central committees of these parties are indeed very low. There are women's wings and leagues in which women participate actively, especially when it comes to electioneering and canvassing. Despite this, women's issues have failed to appear in the party's agendas and nor do the parties take proactive measures to encourage the inclusion and participation of women in the party's governance policy-making activities.
However, the ruling party LCD adopted a policy of ensuring that at least 30% of the members of its central committee and committees on all other levels would be women (Government of Lesotho 2006, 12; EISA 2008, 20).
CONSTITUTION OF LESOTHO 1993, does not contain any amendments, [www] http://aceproject.org/regions-en/eisa/LS/Constitution%20of%20Lesotho%201993.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 21 January 2010).
FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION ACT 1996, [www] http://aceproject.org/ ero-en/regions/africa/LS/First%20Amendment%20to%20the%20Constitution%20Act%201996.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 21 January 2010).
SECOND AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION ACT 1997, [www] http://aceproject.org/ regions-en/eisa/LS/Second%20Amendment%20to%20the%20Constitution%20Act%201997.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 21 January 2010).
THIRD AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION ACT 1998, [www] http://aceproject.org/ero- en/regions/africa/LS/Third%20Amendment%20to%20the%20Constitution%20Act%201997.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 21 January 2010).
FOURTH AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION ACT 2001.
FIFTH AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION ACT 2004.
EISA 2008 Election Observer Mission Report: Lesotho National Assembly Elections 17 February 2007 [PDF document].
GENDER LINKS UNDATED "Lesotho Women in Politics".
GLOBAL DATABASE OF QUOTAS FOR WOMEN 2006 "Lesotho", [www] http://www.quotaproject.org/uid/countryview.cfm?country=133 [opens new window] (accessed 21 January 2010).
GOVERNMENT OF LESOTHO 2006, "Lesotho Report: African Union Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa", [www] http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Conferences/Past/2006/October/WG/ Report-Lesotho.doc [MS Word document] (accessed 21 January 2010).
LENA 2005 'All Women Constituencies "Reasonably Justifiable"', Government of Lesotho, 1July, [www] http://www.lesotho.gov.ls/articles/2005/All_Women_Constituencies.htm [opens new window] (accessed 21 January 2010).