COULD FORCING WIDOWS FROM RURAL AREAR TO WEAR MOURNING CLOTHES BE VIOLATING THEIR RIGHTS?
Date: 28 July 2023
By: Thembi Madalane
According to Maputo protocol article 20, parties must take appropriate legal measures to protect widows from inhuman, humiliating, or degrading treatment so they can enjoy all their human rights. The Republic of South Africa Constitution is the supreme law of the country. Section 7 (1) of the Constitution states that the Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines all people’s rights in our country and affirms democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
Section 9 (1) states that everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and the benefit of the law. Section 9(2) provides that equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. Section 15 (1) states that everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
Despite this, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) still receives complaints from widows from rural areas alleging that traditional leaders force them to wear mourning clothes, contrary to their religious beliefs. Widows who fail to wear mourning clothes are fined by the traditional leadership. This demonstrates that widows are still fighting customs that perpetuate discrimination and limit their freedom under Traditional Leadership. The fear of victimization coerces them into complying the instruction to wear mourning clothes, despite this being against their religious beliefs.
Section 15 of the Constitution clearly states that no person may be discriminated against because of their religion, gender, or belief. However, in many rural areas, local customary laws prevail to the detriment of these rights.
A traditional leader with whom the CGE engaged on this issue, during a stakeholder engagement, subsequently made a pronouncement that widows will not be forced to wear mourning clothes under his leadership. Instead, wearing mourning clothes will be up to the widows.
The traditional leader’s pronouncement demonstrates that the CGE is making an impact through its community engagements. In order to eliminate the unconstitutional practices of forcing widows to wear mourning clothes against their religion and beliefs, traditional leaders must be trained to be accountable and adapt to constitutional principles. Any oppressive situation should be continually challenged to positively influence and transform widows’ situation regarding their ultimate emancipation.
Thembi Madalane is a legal officer at the CGE