The application of the right to equality for women under international law in Southern African courts : a survey of five countries.
Adam, Ayesha Goolam Mahomed.
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A significant proportion of the world's population are routinely subjected to abuse, torture, humiliation, starvation and mutilation simply because they are female, more so in Africa where women's rights are still often viewed as distinct from human rights. This raises the question of state responsibility for protecting women's human rights. Women, as much as men, are entitled to full protection of their rights and freedoms because they are human beings. A decade ago, the United Nations summarized the burden of gender inequality by stating that women composed one--half of the world's population and performed two thirds of the world's work, but earned only one tenth of the world's income and owned only one hundredth of the worlds property. A look at the constitutions of many Southern African states would suggest that women enjoy equality and access to first generation hunlan rights across the region. In most of these constitutions 'discrimination' on the grounds of gender is prohibited, but the governments frequently do not have the nlechanisms in place to enforce these constitutional provisions effectively and women are therefore subjected to widespread practices of discrimination, violence and inequality. Although party to international human rights instruments that advocate gender equality, African states still take a particularly selective view of women's human rights and make this contingent upon local custom. Then one might find that the constitution and civil law give women the same rights as men, but make these subject to traditional practices that limit women's rights. This dissertation will address the issue of how customary laws limit women's human rights and will examine the role of the courts therein. We will also briefly look at the application of international human rights documents in domestic courts. In order to constructively and comprehensively examine the topic within the space constraints dictated, I had to limit this paper to a survey of five Southern African states that were chosen because of their common language, cultural and legal dualism, colonial histories, and the availability of case law. This paper will cover specific issues that affect women in the personal law of marriage, divorce, property rights and inheritance and will be limited to those areas where most inequalities occur. The reason that this paper will concentrate on the above-mentioned issues is that family law is central to African social, political and economic life. The importance of family law in traditional African systems cannot be sufficiently emphasized as it has been noted that in any study of African traditional economic and political arrangcments, the notion of family impinges upon almost every area of community life. These traditional rules are not merely historical curiosities but are part and parcel of the living domestic law in most Southern African states. We will now examine these domestic legal systenls.