WOMEN lawyers have called for the inclusion of female representatives in the proposed National Reforms Commission as well as the establishment of a tribunal to settle disputes that may arise from the work of the same commission.
Since its advent to power in June 2017, the Thomas Thabane-led four party coalition government has been consulting various stakeholders including political parties, business organisations and non-governmental organisations as part of efforts to build consensus on the multi-sectoral reforms the country needs to implement.
The constitutional, security sector, public service, governance and media reforms were part of the recommendations made by the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016 to ensure lasting peace and stability which is crucial to the country’s socio-economic development.
International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) representative, Mabela Lehloenya, said that “fair representation” of women in the proposed commission was necessary to achieve inclusivity, credibility as well as justice for women whose concerns were not given adequate consideration in policy formulation and legislation.
She said this during her recent presentation before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Law and Public Safety.
She said women should therefore be included among the commissioners in the commission to be established to steer the reforms as proposed in the National Reforms Commission Bill of 2018.
The National Reforms Commission Bill was tabled before parliament on 17 January 2017.
The bill seeks to provide for the establishment of the National Reforms Commission whose mandate is to facilitate national dialogue on the reforms recommended by SADC to achieve lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.
The envisaged commission shall be composed of six commissioners and led by a retired judge or any other eminent person. It will operate for an initial period of 18 months with a provision for another 12 month extension to enable it to complete its mandate.
Ms Lehloenya however said the wording of the bill was too general and should be specific about female representation in the commission.
“The composition of the commission leaves out the bulk of the society’s representatives as it also does not include those with other forms of expertise, other than purely legal or civil service expertise,” Ms Lehloenya said.
For its part, the Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) recommended an increase in the number of commissioners to seven from the envisaged six.
WLSA Coordinator, Libakiso Matlho, said the seventh commissioner should be a prominent individual who was knowledgeable and experienced in gender issues to ensure that gender issues were mainstreamed into the reforms process.
Ms Matlho said it was imperative for women to have at least 30 percent representation in the proposed commission to enable them to influence the decision-making.
Back in 1997, Lesotho joined other SADC countries in committing to ensuring the equal representation of women and men in the decision-making positions of member states and SADC structures at all levels by 2015. The SADC countries also committed themselves to the achievement of at least 30 percent representation of women in political and decision making structures by the year 2005 including parliament.
But 13 years down the line, Lesotho is nowhere near meeting the 30 percent benchmark on women’s representation in parliament and other decision-making structures. Hence the call by the women lawyers.
Ms Matlho called for the establishment of a tribunal to resolve any disputes that may arise when people were subpoenaed by the proposed Reforms Commission.
Section 3 (b) of the Reforms Bill states that the Commission shall have powers to “subpoena any person to provide oral or written information to the Commission where it considers such information necessary for achieving its objectives”.
The women lawyers’ demand for representation in the proposed commission follows a similar call by the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD) for one of the commissioners to be a representative of people with disabilities.
LNFOD Executive Director, Nkhasi Sefuthi, last week told the Lesotho Times that his organisation wanted at least one commissioner “who is a representative of persons with disability and knowledgeable and experienced in disability rights, to support other commissioners on the mainstreaming of disability rights in the reforms”.
“We have important issues that we would like to be incorporated because we have realised that we are always left behind whenever government is working on enhancing democracy and human rights simply because no one understands our concerns very well,” Adv Sefuthi said.