Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Chan Wah v. Hang Hau Rural Community and Others Court of Final Appeal (2000)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices

The plaintiffs were non-indigenous villagers who sought declarations that their local village election laws were unlawful for restricting the participation of non-indigenous villagers in the election of village representatives. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, non-indigenous females married to indigenous villagers could vote, but non-indigenous males married to indigenous villagers could not vote. The court found that this distinction violated the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. 

RRT Case No. 1101038 Refugee Review Tribunal (2011)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Forced and early marriage, Harmful traditional practices

The applicant appealed a decision denying her a protection visa. The applicant demonstrated evidence that if she returned to Uganda, she would be forced to undergo FGM.  The applicant was a member of the Sabiny tribe, meaning her father’s family had the right under Ugandan law to take her away from her mother and compel her to obey traditional practices, including FGM. She further testified that if she returned to Uganda there would be a risk of abuse as she was a Christian, which was not accepted in her family village. Furthermore, when she was 12, her family found a potential husband for her, a witchdoctor who believed in Satan and professed sacrificing people to achieve a particular objective. She was therefore afraid that if she returned to Uganda, she would be forced to marry this individual, who believed that sacrificing people could bring him power and money. The tribunal found that the applicant was a person to whom Australia owed protection obligations.

RRT Case No. 0808751 Refugee Review Tribunal (2009)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Harmful traditional practices

The applicant sought a review of a decision to refuse her a protection visa under s65 of the Migration Act 1958. The application was refused because the applicant was allegedly not a person to whom Australia had protection obligations arising out of the Refugees Convention. The tribunal investigated the history of the victim and her claims of substantial risk of being forced to undergo FGM if she returned to Uganda. The evidence presented included the fact that the process is not illegal in Uganda, that her father is relatively high-ranking in a tribe that finds FGM extremely important, and that she has in the past been abducted in order to be forced to undergo the process. She changed schools and stayed with relatives, but those means of escape have not worked as eventually her father and his tribe were always able to find her. As such, the tribunal concluded that there was a risk of serious harm if the applicant were forced to return to Uganda. It also concluded that she does satisfy the s36(2)(a) of the Migration Act and was therefore a person to whom Australia has protection obligations.

Moosa N.O. and Others v. Harnaker and Others High Court of South Africa: Western Cape Division (2017)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The deceased was married to the second and third applicant under Islamic law. The marriage of the deceased and the third applicant was entered into before the marriage between the deceased and the second applicant. However, the deceased and the second applicant entered into a civil marriage to qualify for a home loan. Following the death of the deceased, The Registrar of Deeds, Cape Town, refused to register the title deed to the family home in the name of the third applicant. The Registrar’s refusal was premised on the meaning of the term “surviving spouse” as contemplated in terms of section 2C(1) of the Wills Act 7 of 1953 (the “Wills Act”). According to the Registrar, the only recognised surviving spouse of the deceased is the second applicant as they entered into a civil marriage. The Court declared section 2C(1) of the Wills Act unconstitutional as it does not recognise the rights of spouses married under Islamic law nor multiple female spouses married to a deceased testator in polygynous Muslim marriages.

Die oorledene is volgens die Islamitiese Wet met ‘n tweede en derde applikant getroud.  Die huwelik van die oorledene en die derde applikant is aangegaan voor die huwelik tussen die oorledene en die tweede applikant.  Die oorledene en die tweede applikant het egter ‘n siviele huwelik aangegaan om te kwalifiseer vir ‘n huislening.  Na die afsterwe van die oorledene het die Registrateur van Aktes, Kaapstad, geweier om die titel-akte van die gesinshuis in die naam van die derde aansoeker te registreer.  Die weiering van die registrateur is gegrond op die betekenis van die term “oorlewende gade” soos beoog in terme van artikel 2C(1) van die Wet op Testamente 7 van 1953 ( die “Testamente Wet”). Volgens die registsrateur is die enigste erkende oorlewende gade van die oorledene, die tweede aansoeker aangesien hulle ‘n siviele huwelik aangegaan het.  DIe hof het artikel 2C(1) van die Wet op testamente ongrondwetlik verklaar aangesien dit nie die regte van gades wat kragtens die Islamitiese wet getroud is, erken nie asook nie veelvuldige vroulike eggenote wat met ‘n oorlede testateur in ‘n poligamiese moslemhuwelik verbind is nie.

Bhe and Others v. Khayelitsha Magistrate Constitutional Court (2004)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

This judgment constituted three related cases (Bhe, Shibi and SAHRC), which were decided together and concerned the African customary law rule of primogeniture. In Bhe, a mother brought an action to secure the property of her deceased husband for her daughters. In Shibi, the applicant was denied the right to inherit from her deceased brother’s intestate estate under African customary law. In SAHRC, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Women’s Legal Centre Trust brought an action in the public interest to declare the rule of male primogeniture contained within section 23 of the Black Administration Act 38 of 1927 invalid. The Constitutional Court declared section 23 invalid, meaning that all deceased estates were to be governed by the Intestate Succession Act 81 of 1987, under which widows and children can benefit regardless of their gender or legitimacy. The Court also ordered the division of estates in circumstances where the deceased person was in a polygamous marriage and was survived by more than one spouse and ordered that, in such instances, a surviving spouse shall inherit a child’s share of the intestate estate or so much of the intestate estate as does not exceed in value the amount fixed by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development by notice in the Gazette.

Hierdie uitspraak het bestaan uit drie verwante sake (BHE, Shibi en SARK) wat saam beslis is en het betrekking op die Afrika gebruiks regsreël van eersgeboortereg. In BHE het 'n moeder 'n saak gemaak om die eiendom van haar oorlede man vir haar dogters te verseker. In Shibi is die applikant volgens die Afrika gewoontereg, die reg ontsê om van die intestate boedel van haar broer te erf.  In SAHRC het die Suid-Afrikaanse Menseregte Kommissie en die "Women’s Legal Centre Trust" 'n saak in die openbare belang gebring om die reël van manlike eersgeboortereg wat in artikel 23 van die Swart Administrasie Wet 38 van 1927 ongeldig te verklaar. Die Konstitusionele Hof het artikel 23 ongeldig verklaar wat beteken dat alle boedels van oorledenes onderworpe sal wees aan die Intestaat Opvolgwet 81 van 1987 waaronder weduwees en kinders voordeel kan trek ongeag hul geslag of wettigheid. Die Hof het ook gelas dat boedels onderverdeel word in omstandighede waar die oorledene in ’n poligame huwelik was en deur meer as een eggenoot oorleef word. In welke geval ’n oorlewende eggenoot ’n kind se deel van die intestate boedel erf of ’n waarde van die intestate boedel wat nie die bedrag wat deur die Minister vir Justisie en Grondwetlike Ontwikkeling vasgesteld is, oorskry word soos die kennisgewing in die Staatskoerant nie.

Women's Legal Centre Trust v. President of the Republic of South Africa and Others High Court of South Africa: Western Cape Division (2018)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The plaintiff petitioned to bring three consolidated actions directly to the Constitutional Court.  They sought a declaratory order that the President recognize Muslim marriages as valid for all purposes in South Africa.  The Constitutional Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ plea for direct access and instead directed them to the High Court.  The High Court held that the State’s failure to enact legislation recognising religious Muslim marriages violated the rights of Muslim women based on religion, marital status, gender, and sex.  The court directed the President, Cabinet, and Parliament to prepare and bring into operation legislation to recognise marriages performed in accordance with Sharia law.

Die eiser het 'n versoek om drie gekonsolideerde aksies direk na die Konstitusionele Hof te bring.  Hulle het 'n verklarende-bevel aangevra dat die President, Moslem-huwelike as geldig vir alle doeleindes in Suid-Afrika erken. Die Konstitusionele Hof het die eisers se pleit vir direkte toegang van die hand gewys en het hulle eerder aan die Hooggeregshof verwys.   Die Hooggeregshof het bevind dat die staat se versuim om wetgeving te aanvaar wat erkenning gee aan huwelike wat godsdienstig Moslem is, die regte van Moslemvroue gekend het op grond van godsdiens, huwelikstatus, geslag en seks.  Die hof het die President, die Kabinet, en die Parlement oprag gegee om wetgeving voor te berei en in werking te stel om huwelike wat volgens die sharia-wetgewing uitgevoer is, te erken.

Hosho v. Hasisi High Court of Zimbabwe (2015)

Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

This was a dispute involving property in the name of the plaintiff and occupied by the defendant. The plaintiff sought an order for the eviction of the defendant, claiming that he had lawfully acquired the property. The defendant claimed that she was the rightful owner as the surviving spouse of the previous owner of the property through an unregistered customary law union. The court held that defendant had no right to the property as there was no concrete evidence supporting the existence of her customary marriage. The court explained that although the absence of a formal marriage certificate is not fatal to the recognition of a customary law union in matters of inheritance and constitutional protections for surviving spouses and children, the union must be proven to exist. Payment of a roora/lobola, or bride price, remains the most cogent and valid proof of a customary union/marriage, particularly where it has not been formally registered because the ceremony itself involves representatives from both families and others who could attest to the process having taken place. Furthermore, there is often documentary evidence of what had been paid and what remained to be paid. Here, the court held for the plaintiff because there was no evidence of a roora/lobola payment and the defendant could not prove her customary marriage to the deceased.

Magerer v. Republic High Court of Kenya at Bomet (2016)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Harmful traditional practices

The appellant was convicted of (i) aiding the commission of female genital mutilation (“FGM)” on several girls, (ii) failing to report the commission of FGM, and (iii) allowing her premises to be used to perform FGM.  She pled guilty to the crimes and was sentenced to pay a fine of Kshs. 200,000 (or 3 years of imprisonment if she defaulted on the payment).  On appeal, she argued that the sentence was overly harsh and oppressive because she was a single mother of three children.  Justice M. Muya upheld her sentence, as it was the minimum allowed under the Female Genital Mutilation Act.  The Justice in this case noted that within this case “lies the clash between traditional values and the law of the land.”  Even though the appellant was abiding by a customary practice, it was in violation of Kenyan criminal law, and thus the appellate court upheld her sentence. 

Nduta v. Republic High Court of Kenya at Siaya (2015)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices

The appellant appealed his conviction and sentence for injuring his wife, who he inherited according to customary practice after her husband died in 2002.  On November 8, 2013, his wife attempted to pack clothes to visit her children in Nairobi.  The appellant refused to let his wife travel and threatened to murder her.  The appellant cut both of his wife’s arms using a panga (machete), but she managed to escape to her nephew’s home.  The nephew saw the appellant armed with the panga and a knife before taking his aunt to the police station and later the hospital.  The appellant was convicted of Grievous Harm Contrary to Section 234 of the Penal Code and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.  He appealed, arguing that the trial court failed to consider that this was a mere domestic issue that could have been resolved by village elders.  The appellant asked for a non-custodial sentence citing the fact he was an elderly man (78 years old).  The High Court upheld the conviction and the sentence, noting, “The appellant’s actions amounted to violence against women.  It is my view a gender-based violence which the court cannot condone or tolerate and let perpetrators of violence against women and girls go unpunished.”  This case demonstrates the relationship between the criminal courts in Kenya and customary law. 

Nxumalo v. Ndlovu Supreme Court (2011)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The executor of the estate of a deceased man (the appellant) brought an application to the High Court for a declaration that the civil marriage to the respondent was bigamous and invalid because of a number of pre-existing customary marriages between the deceased and three other women. The deceased considered the marriages over when the women left him and never returned. The deceased had executed a will and later four codicils. The High Court found that the respondent’s civil law marriage was a lawful marriage in community of property, and the will was declared null and void. The appeal is of the order of the High Court. The Supreme Court heard testimony from one of the wives married to the deceased under customary law and from experts in Swazi law and custom relating to the dissolution of customary marriages. The Supreme Court found in favour of the appellant. The decision of the High Court was set aside and the Master of the High Court was to appoint a suitable and proper person to administer the deceased estate. This case is important as it illustrates the importance and status of Swazi law.

Mabuza v. Shongwe Supreme Court of Appeal of Swaziland (2006)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices

The appellant was the maternal grandfather of two minor children (the subject of the application). The appellant was appealing a decision of the trial court which ordered that the children be placed the custody of their biological father (the respondent). The children stayed with the appellant for a period of time while the respondent pursued his education in South Africa. Upon the respondent’s return, he fetched the children from the applicant’s residence. One of the appellant’s arguments was that because the marriage between the appellant’s deceased daughter and the respondent was invalid under Swazi law, the custody of the children should be with the maternal family (in accordance with Swazi law and custom). The Court stated that Section 29(4) of the Constitution removes the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children as it states that children whether born in or out of wedlock shall enjoy the same protection and rights. The Court found that the most important considerations were the welfare, interests and happiness of the children. The Court found that no evidence was adduced to prove that the respondent was not fit to have custody over the children and the appeal was dismissed. 

Masupha v. Senior Resident Magistrate for the Subordinate Court of Berea High Court of Lesotho (Constitutional Division) (2013)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, International law, Property and inheritance rights

The petitioner, Senate Masupha, is the firstborn, female child of a late principal Chief.  Because there were no firstborn males in his immediate family, upon his death, the late Chief’s wife and the petitioner’s mother was appointed as a caretaker Chief in accordance with the Chieftainship Act.  Following the death of the late Chief’s wife in 2008, the late Chief’s younger brother instituted a claim for inheritance of the chieftainship before a magistrate’s court, which was challenged by the late Chief’s son from a second wife, as well as that son’s mother.  The petitioner, who had not been included in the proceedings before the lower court, subsequently intervened to request a change of venue to the Constitutional Court, so that she could challenge the constitutionality of the provision in the Chieftainship Act under which she was precluded from seeking to succeed to the chieftainship, as she was the first-born child.  Masupha argued that the Chieftainship Act does not necessarily preclude her from inheriting the chieftainship and that, even if the Chieftainship Act in fact precludes her from doing so, it should be struck down, because it violates multiple provisions of the Constitution.  The High Court highlighted the fact that, in acceding to CEDAW, Lesotho specifically excluded itself from the provisions of that Convention in so far as it concerns the customary practices relating to succession to the throne and to chieftainship.  It therefore dismissed Masupha’s petition seeking to declare the Chieftainship Act provision preventing female offspring from inhering chieftainships discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional, finding that the Chieftainship Act was not discriminatory, because it allows the senior wife to inherit the title as a caretaker, if there are no living first-born males from any of the deceased’s marriages.  The High Court concluded that, when a wife succeeds her husband as a caretaker, the right to inherit reverts back to the male line of the family upon the death of the female chief.  The judgment was appealed to the highest court in the country, the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the High Court’s decision and upheld the customary law effectively denying women the ability to succeed to chieftainship.

Estate of Lerionka Ole Ntutu High Court of Kenya at Nairobi (Family Division) (2008)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, International law, Property and inheritance rights

Lerionka Ole Ntutu was survived by multiple wives, sons, and daughters.  After his sons filed an application asking the High Court to issue to them the letters of administration to administer their father’s estate, their sisters and stepsisters filed an objection and claimed their inheritance.  The sons contested the objection, arguing that the distribution of their father’s estate was governed by Masai customary law, which did not recognize the right of daughters to claim an inheritance from their father’s estate.  The judge in the first instance found that, because Ntutu was Masai and lived in an area excluded from the Succession Act, his estate should be divided accorded to Masai custom.  The judge thus held that none of the daughters could inherit from their father’s estate.  In ruling on the daughters’ appeal, the Court of Appeal invoked international treaties and covenants, including CEDAW, in finding that the daughters of the deceased person in that case were entitled to a share of his estate.  On appeal before the High Court, the definitive question before Lady Justice K. Rawal was whether the Court should apply the Law of Succession Act or the customary law of the Masai community.  The High Court was satisfied that, even if the Law of Succession Act allowed Ole Ntutu’s community to apply customary law in the distribution of his estate, any tenet of such customary law that would abrogate the right of daughters to inherit the estate of a father would be repugnant to justice and morality and could not be applied.  The High Court thus ruled that Ole Ntutu’s daughters were entitled to inherit their father’s land.

Mmusi v. Ramantele High Court of Botswana at Gaborone (2012)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, International law, Property and inheritance rights

Edith Mmusi and her sisters, all over 65 years of age, brought a case against their nephew, Molefi Ramantele, who claimed to have rightfully inherited the home that was occupied by Mmusi and her sisters and tried to evict them.  The sisters contested the eviction, arguing that they had paid for the home’s upkeep and expansion costs.  The applicable customary law, that of the Ngwaketse tribe, dictated that the family home of a deceased individual was to be reserved to the last born male child.  The rest of the property was to be divided among the children, regardless of gender.  The Lower Customary Court found in favor of the nephew; the Higher Customary Court held in 2008 that the home belonged to all of the children; and the Customary Court of Appeal, to which both parties appealed, held that the home should be inherited by the nephew.  The High Court noted that the issue of law being considered was whether the Ngwaketse customary law, to the extent that it denied the applicants the right to inherit the family residence intestate, "solely on the basis of their sex, violate[d] their constitutional right to equality under s 3(a) of the Constitution of Botswana.  On 12 October 2012, the High Court subsequently awarded the home to the sisters, ruling that the local customary laws prioritizing male inheritance were not in keeping with the promise of gender equality enshrined in the Constitution of Botswana and in international conventions such as CEDAW, thereby recognizing for the first time the right of women in Botswana to inherit property.  On 3 September 2013, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court, observing that “Constitutional values of equality before the law, and the increased leveling of the power structures with more and more women heading households and participating with men as equals in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sphere, demonstrate that 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.”  This case was a landmark case that effectively ended the patriarchal inheritance system in Botswana.

Public Ministry and Civil Party Mawazo Safi v. Mewnyibamba Kabale & Passy Nyakura Court of Greater Instance of Bukavu (2001)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The “Civil Party” brought allegations of adultery against her husband and the “cohabitant”, claiming her husband abandoned her to live with the cohabitant despite her earlier marriage with her husband in 1980.  The Civil Party and her husband had three children before he moved away. A dowry was regularly paid on the marriage throughout and no party contests the 1980 marriage.  As such, the marriage could generally qualify under Congolese law as a ‘monogamous customary marriage’ under the law of November 30, 2000, which does not require the date of the marriage or any registry number to be filed with the State.  The Civil Party’s husband and his cohabitant claim the civil party knew and authorized their cohabitation because she refused to relocate with her husband when his work required him to do so and that she visited them at their home, all of which she contests.  Despite the lack of contest by any party to the prior marriage and recognition that a monogamous customary marriage exists here, the Tribunal suspended the case until the marriage was registered because Article 380 of the Congolese Family Code requires a ‘monogamous customary marriage’ to be registered before either party can exercise rights in court. (Available on pages 136-137 on linked site.)

Mukinga v. Fuller and Others Supreme Court for Zambia (2008)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Property and inheritance rights

Ms. Mukinga and Mr. Fuller were married under Lozi customary law, although there was no formal marriage. A Lobola was paid, and the two began living together. She became pregnant, but miscarried. Mr. Fuller also took Ms. Mukinga to South Africa to meet his family. They opened a joint bank account and purchased a stand, held in Mr. Fuller’s name, to operate a company they formed together. They later rented the property to a thirdparty. Eventually the marriage broke down, and Ms. Mukinga, claiming that she had an interest in the property through marriage, brought an action to recover her share of the rental income and to force the sale of the stand. The lower court held that because the property documents were in Mr. Fuller’s name and there was no marriage certificate, and therefore no marriage, Ms. Mukinga had no interest in the property. She appealed to the High Court, which upheld the lower court’s decision and prompted her further appeal. Although the Supreme Court dismissed her claim on procedural grounds (for commencing the action with an improper summons), it overturned the High Court’s holding that no marriage existed. Given the customary Lobola payment and co-habitation, it found that a valid Lozi marriage was consummated. Additionally, the Supreme Court noted that couple opened up a joint bank account rather than a business account for their joint company. Therefore, despite the absence of an official marriage certificate, the Supreme Court held that the two were married under Zambian law and that Ms. Mukinga had established a legal interest in the property.

El Tribunal Constitucional de Chile Constitutional Court of Chile (2007)

Forced sterilization

A parliamentary minority requested that the Constitutional Court declare unconstitutional a Ministry of Health decree that determined the availability of family planning methods and permitted distribution of emergency contraception by national health centers.  The constitutional court noted that the “right to life” is fundamental under the Chilean Constitution. It rejected scientific arguments that emergency contraception did not affect the life of a conceived but unborn embryo.  In a dissenting opinion, one judge noted that the rights protecting the reproductive rights of women were enshrined in CEDAW in conflict with the Constitutional Court’s decision.  The Constitutional Court’s decision did not prevent all distribution of emergency contraception in Chile, but banned it from being distributed by clinics and hospitals that are part of national health system. The constitutional court decision was effectively overruled in January 2010 by Law No. 20.418, promulgated by President Bachelet, which permitted distribution of emergency contraceptive pills in both public and private health centers, including to persons under 14 without parental consent.  The law also requires high schools to enact sexual education programs.

In Re Estate of Lerionka Ole Ntutu (Deceased) High Court of Kenya at Nairobi (Family Division) (2008)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, International law, Property and inheritance rights

The sons of Lerionka Ole Ntutu filed to prevent Ntutu’s married daughters from receiving their inheritance of his estate Section 82(4) (b) of the Kenyan Constitution. Under Kikuyu customary law, only unmarried daughters were allowed an inheritance. The presiding judge held that this claim was illegitimate, stating that the law cannot deprive a person of their rights only on the basis of sex and marital status. The judge followed the precedent set by the ruling in Rono v. Rono, Kenya Court of Appeal, 2005, in circumscribing customary law to prevent violations of justice, morality, and other written law. This case marked another important step in upholding women’s rights and human rights law over harmful customary practices towards women.

Andrew Manunzyu Musyoka (Deceased) High Court of Kenya at Machakos (2005)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, International law, Property and inheritance rights

The applicants are the sons and wife of the deceased and are seeking to apply the Kamba customary law that would not permit a daughter to inherit her father's estate if she is married.  The Court held that the Kamba customary law is discriminatory insofar as it seeks to prevent a married daughter from inheriting her father's estate under the Succession Act.  It specifically noted that although the Kenyan constitution specifically provides for customary law to take precedence over the Constitution in matters dealing with property inheritance after death and other personal issues, Kenya is also obligated to end discriminatory practices under CEDAW and the UDHR. 

Theko v. Theko High Court of Lesotho (1982)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The plaintiff-wife sought the dissolution of her marriage to the defendant on the grounds of his previous marriage under the Sotho custom.  The Court declared the marriage to be null and void on the grounds that the plaintiff agreed to the marriage through fraud, believing that the defendant was unmarried at the time and would not have agreed to the marriage if she had known the truth.


Local Government (Amendment) Act (2004)

Gender discrimination

The Local Government (Amendment) Act of 2004 amends the Local Government Act of 1997. It maintains Lesotho’s quota system and mandates that 30% of the total number of seats in municipal, urban, and community councils be reserved for women. It deletes instances of the words “he,” “his,” and “him” throughout the prior act and replaces them with "he or she," "his or her," and "him or her"; reiterates in Section 3 that “not less than one third of the seats in a council shall be reserved for women”; and section 4(3) calls for the creation of a Tender Board, which must have a third of its members be women.

Customary Law Act (1969)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices

The Customary Law Act aims to reconcile potential conflicts arising between customary Botswana law and Botswana’s common law. The Act pursues this aim by specifying that customary law is to be applied in customary courts only when it “is not incompatible with the provisions of any written law or contrary to morality, humanity or natural justice.” The Act thus makes presumptively invalid customary law that does not comply with common law legislation, leaves such law inapplicable in customary courts, and upholds the supremacy of the common law in Botswana

Marriage (Amendment) Act of 2001 (2001)

Forced and early marriage, International law

The Marriage Act was amended in 2001 to make it illegal for any person under the age of 18 to marry. In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the amendment stipulates that no minor below the age of 21 years may marry without the consent of parents or a legal guardian. The amendment provided for the registration of Customary, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious marriages.

Lei de Terras: Lei nº 19/97 (Land Law) (1997)

Property and inheritance rights

The law governs ownership and use of land. Articles 10 and 15 of the law provide that women have the same right as men to use and manage land. The law also provides that land can be inherited regardless of gender. However, article 12 states that land acquisition requires compliance with “customary norms and practices that are not contrary to the Constitution.”

Recognition of Customary Marriage Act (1998)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The Act recognizes customary marriages solemnized in accordance with customary law. Customary law is defined as, “the customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African peoples of South Africa and which form part of the culture of those peoples.” Both monogamous and polygamous marriages are recognized under the Act. Although registration of a customary marriage is peremptory, a failure to register a customary marriage does not affect the validity of that marriage. The definition of customary law in this Act does not apply to Hindu and Muslim customary marriages.

Die Wet op Erkenning van Gebruiklike Huwelike (1998)

Egskeiding en ontbinding van huwelik​

Die Wet erken gebruiklike huwelike wat in gewoontereg voltrek word. Gewoontereg word beskou as “Die gewoontes en gebruike wat tradisioneel onder die inheemse bevolkingsgroepe van Suid-Afrika nagekom word en wat deel vorm van die kultuur van daardie bevolkingsgroepe.”  Beide monogame en poligiene gebruiklike huwelike word erken onder die wet. Alhoewel registrasie van ‘n gebruiklike huwelik bindend is, sal versuiming om dit te registreer nie die geldigheid van die huwelik affekteer nie. Hindoe en Moslem gebruiklike huwelike val nie onder die definisie van gewoontereg vir dié wet nie.

Reform of Customary Law of Succession and Regulation of Related Matters Act 11 (2009)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The Act abolishes the customary rule of primogeniture in as far as it applies to the law of succession and further extends the application of the Intestate Succession Act to the deceased estates of Africans who die intestate (without a will) and provides guidelines for interpreting the Intestate Succession Act in order to give effect to the new provisions and to ensure the protection of the rights of women to inherit.

Die Wet op Hervorming van die Gewoontereg van Opvolging en Regulering van Verwante Aangeleenthede 11 (2009)

Geslags diskriminasie, Skadelike traditionele gebruike, Eiendom en erfenisregte​

Die Wet skaf die gebruiklike rëel van primogeniture af vir sover dit van toepassing is op die erfreg en brei die toepassing van de Wet op Intestate Opvolging verder uit op die afgestorwe boedels van Afrikane wat intestaat sterf (sonder ‘n  testament) en bevat riglyne vir die inerpretasie van die Intestate Opvolgingswet om uitvoering te gee aan die nuwe bepalings en om die beskerming van die regte van vroue om te erf te verseker.

Administration of Estates Act (2002)

Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The AE Act removed inheritance laws unfavorable to widows in civil and registered customary marriages. It recognizes a union contracted according to customary rites, even without formal registration under the Customary Marriages Act of 1951 (currently under Parliamentary review as of July 17, 2019). The AE Act provides that the property of an estate is to be divided by the surviving spouse and the children, regardless of the sex of the children. It also stipulates that a widow whose husband died intestate retains rights to the family’s land upon the death of her husband.

The Domestic Violence Act (2007)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Harmful traditional practices

The DVA protects and provides relief for victims of domestic violence. It defines and prohibits domestic violence in the form of physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse as well as acts of abuse derived from any cultural or customary practices that discriminate against or degrade women. Examples include, but are not limited to, forced virginity testing, female genital mutilation, pledging women and girls to appease spirits, forced marriage, child marriage, forced wife inheritance or sexual intercourse between fathers-in-law and newly married daughters-in-law. The penalty for committing an act of domestic violence as defined under section 3 is a fine not exceeding USD 5,000 and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years. The DVA also imposes duties on the police. Stations must have, where possible, one police officer with domestic violence expertise. Further, a police officer who receives a complaint of domestic violence must advise the complainant about how to obtain shelter or medical treatment and about their right to seek relief under the DVA. The DVA also requires that complaints made to police officers should be taken by officers of the same sex as the complainant, if complainant so requests.  Moreover, police officers have the authority to arrest a person suspected of committing an act of domestic violence without a warrant and bring that person before a magistrate within 48 hours. Finally, the DVA provides for protection and relief to survivors of domestic violence by enabling them to apply for a protection order when an act of domestic violence has been committed, is being committed, or is threatened. It also allows someone acting with the consent of the complainant to make an application for a protection order on his or her behalf with the leave of the court. A person who fails to comply with a protection order is guilty of an offense and liable for a fine not exceeding USD 200 and/or imprisonment for up to five years.

Constitution of Zimbabwe (Amendment No. 20) (2013)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence, Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

Zimbabwe’s new 2013 Constitution addressed women’s rights and gender equality, and its bill of rights addressed damaging cultural and discriminatory practices. A gender commission was also established to accelerate the implementation of provisions related to women. More specifically, the Constitution recognized gender equality and women’s rights among Zimbabwe’s founding values and principles. It mandated that the State and all its institutions consider gender equality in laws and policy, to implement measures that provide care and assistance to mothers, and to grant women opportunities to work. The State must also prevent domestic violence, ensure marriages are consensual, and that there are equal rights in marriages. In the event of dissolution of marriage, the State must provide for the rights of spouses and children. The state is also obliged to afford girls and boys equal educational opportunities. The bill of rights specifically stipulates that women are equal to men, including deserving equal opportunities in political, economic, and social activities. Provision was also made for legislative seats reserved for women in the National Assembly. Finally, gender equality must be considered in making judicial appointments.

Communal Land Reform Act (2002)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The Communal Land Reform Act 2002 aims to regulate the allocation of customary land rights in communal lands and to establish Communal Land Boards. Communal land that previously belonged to indigenous communities is now vested in the state, which then distributes and allocates the land among the rural communities. This Act takes precedence over customary law and is much more favorable to women’s rights. Under the Act, four women must be appointed to the Communal Land Boards. Furthermore, the Act provides that a customary land right that was allocated to a particular holder of such right shall upon the death of such holder be re-allocated to the surviving spouse. This provides protection to a surviving wife who may now remain on the communal land where previously she would lose the rights to such land upon the death of her husband.

Married Persons Equality Act (1996)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Forced and early marriage, Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The Married Persons Equality Act (the “Act”) abolishes the marital power of the husband over his wife and her property and amends community property laws. It further provides women with the power to register immovable property in their own name, gives them legal capacity to litigate and contract, and allows them to act as directors of companies. The Act also establishes that the minimum age for marriage is 18, thereby prohibiting child marriages.

The Combating Rape Act (2000)

Harmful traditional practices, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The Combating of Rape Act (the “Act”) seeks to prevent rape and provides minimum imprisonment sentences for rape. It also abolishes the previous law, which presumed that a boy under the age of 14 was incapable of rape and sexual intercourse. This Act also regulates the granting of bail to perpetrators to further protect the rights of the victim, and provides protection to victims of rape and sexual abuse. Finally, it abolishes the customary rule, common among rural areas, that marriage is a justification for, or a defense to, rape.  

HIV Control of the Disease and Related Issues (Amending Title 33) (2010)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

HIV, Control of the Disease and Related Issues (Amending Title 33) (the “Law”), institutes various government initiatives and provides guidance in dealing with HIV-related issues specifically affecting women. For example, the Law provides that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and/or National AIDs Commission (the “Health Institutions”) must take into consideration differences in sex and gender when providing education about HIV. Additionally, the Law lists a number of key issues which the Health Institutions should address in their strategies and programs for protecting and fulfilling the human rights of women in the context of HIV. These include:

The equality of women in public and domestic life (Section 18.9(i));Sexual and reproductive rights, including the concept of consent and a woman’s right to refuse sex and her right to request safe sex (Section 18.9(ii));A woman’s right to independently utilise sexual health services (Section 18.9(ii));Increasing educational, economic, employment and leadership opportunities for women (Section 18.9(iii));Strategies for reducing differences in formal and customary law which prejudice women’s rights (Section 18.9(v)); andThe impact of harmful traditional practices on women (Section 18.9(vi)).

Furthermore, the Law directs the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Justice, and the Liberian National Police to implement educational programs for their personnel in relation to sexual assault perpetrated on women. These are designed to provide personnel working for these government agencies with a better understanding of sexual assault and protect the rights of sexual assault victims.

International Case Law

N. v. Sweden European Court of Human Rights (2010)

Gender discrimination

N and her husband X applied for asylum after arriving in Sweden, claiming persecution in Afghanistan because of X’s political position. The asylum application being rejected, N appealed claiming that, as she had in the meantime separated from her husband, she would risk social exclusion and possibly death if she returned to Afghanistan. Her appeal was also rejected. She applied for a residence permit three times, as well as for divorce from X., submitting that she was at an ever-heightened risk of persecution in Afghanistan, as she had started an extra-marital relationship with a man in Sweden which was punishable by long imprisonment or even death in her country of origin. All her applications were rejected. While being aware of reports of serious human rights violations in Afghanistan, the Court did not find that they showed, on their own, that there would be a violation of the Convention if N were to return to that country. Examining N.'s personal situation, however, the Court noted that women were at a particularly heightened risk of ill-treatment in Afghanistan if they were perceived as not conforming to the gender roles ascribed to them by society, tradition or the legal system there. The mere fact that N had lived in Sweden might well be perceived as her having crossed the line of acceptable behavior. The fact that she wanted to divorce her husband, and in any event did not want to live with him any longer, might result in serious life-threatening repercussions upon her return to Afghanistan. Among other things, the Court noted that a recent law, the Shiite Personal Status Act of April 2009, required women to obey their husbands' sexual demands and not to leave home without permission. Reports had further shown that around 80 % of Afghani women were affected by domestic violence, acts which the authorities saw as legitimate and therefore did not prosecute. Unaccompanied women, or women without a male "tutor", faced continuous severe limitations to having a personal or professional life, and were doomed to social exclusion. They also often plainly lacked the means for survival if not protected by a male relative. Consequently, the Court found that if N were deported to Afghanistan, Sweden would be in violation of Article 3.

Hadijatou Mani Koraou v. Republic of Niger ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (2008)

Forced and early marriage, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices, Sexual violence and rape, Trafficking in persons

Hadijatou Mani, who was born to a mother in slavery, was sold to a local chief at age 12. For the next nine years she was subjected to rape, violence, and forced labor without remuneration. When Niger’s Supreme Court failed to convict her master under Article 270.1-5 of the Nigerien Criminal Code, which made slavery illegal in 2003, Hadijatou brought her case before the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice under Article 9(4) of the Supplementary Protocol A/SP.1/01/05. The court ruled that Hadijatou had been a slave under the definition in Article 1 (I) of the Slavery Convention of 1926 and that in failing to convict Hadijatou’s former master, Niger had not upheld its legal responsibility to protect her from slavery under international law. This case was the first ECOWAS ruling on slavery and only the second conviction made under Niger’s 2003 anti-slavery law. The case gained a high level of publicity, setting the precedent for women to fight back against the traditional slavery practices common to Niger and other ECOWAS nations. As of 2009, there had been approximately 30 more cases upholding the prohibition of slavery in Niger.


You Dress According to Their Rules (2010)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Sexual harassment

Report by Human Rights Watch documenting acts of violence, harassment, and threats against women in Chechnya to intimidate them into wearing a headscarf or dressing more "modestly."


Gender, Discourse, and Customary Law in Africa (2010)

Gender-based violence in general

By Johanna E. Bond. 83 S. Cal. L. Rev. 509-574 (2010). Reprinted from Southern California Law Review, Volume 83. Copyright 2010 Southern California Law Review.