In Verisk Maplecroft’s Women and Girls’ Rights Index 2017, Lesotho is ranked 48th out of 198 countries, where 1.00 denotes greatest risk (where ranks closer to one denote greatest risk). This means that businesses and investors are at ‘high risk’ of association with practices that discriminate against, or otherwise infringe upon the rights of women and girls.
Lesotho is also ranked 73rd in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Gender Gap Index, having fallen 12 places since the 2016 version. This rank represents the persistent institutional barriers to gender equality in the country, and suggests low prospects of improvement.
Provisions in constitutional and national law prohibiting gender-based discrimination are often overridden by more conservative customary law in many areas. For example, customary law determines inheritance and land rights, recognising only male heirs. While women can contest such cases in court, decisions often uphold male primogeniture. Women’s rights groups like the WLSA have argued such laws impede women’s capacity to assert themselves politically, and make them economically dependent on men.
Domestic violence is widespread, and the lack of specific penalties for spousal abuse drives ongoing violations. Young girls, in particular, are at high risk of violence. Many marry young as a means of survival, due to lack of employment opportunities or the death of parents as a result of HIV/AIDS. Although national law sets the minimum age of marriage at 21 with some exceptions, 1 in 5 girls are married before their 18th birthday.
Women face restrictions to their access to credit, limiting their long-term economic prospects. Nationally, women are more likely to be employed in low-wage sectors of the economy due to barriers to entry into the labour market. Although girls outperform boys in early education, such attainment does not translate into better employment opportunities. According to the ILO, Lesotho has one of the lowest rates of female company ownership in Africa. Although some women hold prominent government positions, female representation in parliament has dropped since the 2017 National Assembly Elections.
Women make up the majority of workers in Lesotho’s textile sector, where they account for some 85% of the workforce. Though working conditions are sometimes harsh, the industry provides a crucial source of economic empowerment, and offers a platform for welfare programs for workers and their families. For example, the Apparel Lesotho Alliance to Fight AIDS tackles HIV/AIDS awareness and sexual health issues among factory workers.