In Verisk Maplecroft’s Women’s and Girls’ Rights Index 2016, Lesotho is ranked 119th out of 198 countries (where 1st denotes the greatest risk). The index categorises the country as exposing investors to a ‘medium risk’ of association with practices that discriminate against, or otherwise limit or infringe the rights of, women and girls.
Lesotho is ranked 61st out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, underscoring persistent barriers to women’s equality.[i] While women’s rights are protected in the constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, customary law determines inheritance and land rights, for example, and recognises only male heirs. Although married women can contest inheritance cases in civil courts, these generally rule to uphold male primogeniture. Women also face unequal access to employment, and are more likely to be employed in poorly paid sectors of the economy. Additionally, domestic violence is widespread, with the threat of violence heightened by the absence of specific penalties for spousal abuse.
Women also face restrictions on their access to credit, thereby limiting their long-term economic prospects. Meanwhile, customary law does not set a minimum age for marriage, and a practice of kidnapping girls for marriage persists. However, this is not widespread and the proportion of married adolescent girls was 16.3% between 2002 and 2012.[ii]
According to UNICEF, girls outnumber boys in both primary and secondary school; this is reflected in the country’s youth literacy rates, which are 92.1% for girls and 74.2% for boys.[iii] However, higher levels of educational attainment have not translated into higher levels of employment, and women are less likely to fill roles as legislators, senior officials and managers.[iv]
On the other hand, women constitute the majority workforce in Lesotho’s textile sector. The textile sector is the largest private sector employer and accounted for 40% of exports in 2014, assisted by duty free access to the US market for Basotho textiles.[v] While working conditions in textile factories can be harsh, the sector is a crucial source of employment for women and provides an avenue through which to launch welfare programmes for workers and their families. For instance, the Apparel Lesotho Alliance to Fight AIDS tackles HIV/AIDS awareness and sexual health issues for factory workers.
[i] World Economic Forum, 2015, Gender Gap Index – Lesotho. Available at http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/economies/#economy=LSO
[ii] UNICEF, undated, Country statistics and monitoring – Lesotho. Available at http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/lesotho_statistics.html
[iii] UNICEF, undated, Country statistics and monitoring – Lesotho. Available at http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/lesotho_statistics.html
[iv] World Economic Forum, 2015, Gender Gap Index – Lesotho. Available at http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/economies/#economy=LSO
[v] Trade Map, 2015, Lesotho – Exports by product. Available at http://www.trademap.org/Product_SelCountry_TS.aspx