COMMENDING THE KINGDOM OF LESOTHO FOR ENACTMENT OF A LAW TO IMPROVE THE STATUS OF MARRIED WOMEN -- (House of Representatives - July 16, 2007)
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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I would like to thank my colleague from California, Ambassador Watson, for introducing this important resolution, House Resolution 294, which commends the Kingdom of Lesotho for enacting a law to improve the legal status of married women.
Historically, a married woman in this African country was considered a minor under the law, and, as such, was unable to enter into contracts without her husband's consent and was severely restricted in economic activities and had no legal standing in the courts. This was the case, despite that women have traditionally borne a disproportionate share of responsibility for the health, the welfare, and the education of the family in Lesotho.
They are in the fields, in the markets, in the classrooms, and in the clinics. They run the home and provide the food, care and education essential for the survival of their families. Women serve as the backbone of society in Lesotho. Yet under the law, they have been considered only half a person.
Obviously, this was a grave social injustice that required remedy. I commend those in the government and in civil society who began pressing for greater gender equality in Lesotho as early as 1992.
But it is important to realize that gender inequality in Lesotho, and throughout Africa, is not just an issue of human rights. This is a development issue and an issue of national security.
Over half of the population lives below the poverty level. Yet a government cannot responsibly expect to lift its people out of poverty while legally excluding half of the most productive segment of society from the economy.
Further, at 29 percent, Lesotho has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Life expectancy already has plummeted to 36 years, and prevalence rates are expected to climb to a staggering 36 percent in the next 15 years.
The HIV pandemic is obliterating a generation of the most productive people in Africa. In South Africa, for example, factory managers routinely complain that they have to hire two people to fill a single position due to absentee rates related to HIV.
When a man dies, who is left to provide for his family? His wife. But if a wife and a mother cannot secure even basic inheritance rights and has no standing in civil court, then how is she to provide for the next generation? The traditional safety net provided by the extended family has been eroded, and coping mechanisms have been exhausted by the HIV pandemic.
Women whose husbands have died are suspected to carry the virus themselves and are often shunned by their extended families and communities. Thus, high death rates associated with HIV/AIDS and gender inequalities are leaving behind a generation of impoverished, disaffected youth who are susceptible to criminal activities and radical acts.
In recognition of the links between gender inequality, poverty and HIV/AIDS, the Millennium Challenge Corporation made gender issues a high priority in its negotiations with Lesotho.
In a letter to the Government of Lesotho, the CEO of MCC asserted that the potential impact of a development compact between Lesotho and the MCC focusing on public health and sustainable water and private sector development would be undermined if the issues of gender inequality were not addressed.
Shortly thereafter, the Parliament passed the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, which has significantly enhanced the legal standing of women in Lesotho. To its credit, the MCC has provided assistance to support meaningful implementation of the act.
I strongly encourage the government of Lesotho to continue demonstrating its commitment to improving gender equality in the interest of human rights, economic development, and national security. I hope that other countries in the region will follow suit.
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