How to celebrate International Women’s Day

March 8, 2012. It’s International Women’s Day, and so how to celebrate? Over the weekend, The Independent on Sunday ran a piece entitled, “Revealed: The best and worst places to be a woman.” 20 categories of “surprising results”. Here’s one you might find interesting: Best place to read and write: Lesotho.


Literacy rates among women in Lesotho far exceed those of men. 95% of women can read and write, 83% of men. Boys drop out of a school at a higher rate than girls. The boys leave school to search for work, usually elsewhere. Much of the high literacy levels are a result of government decisions to actually invest in education. That’s all to the good, and of course nothing of it is actually in the article.

Is that it for Lesotho? Its one shot at International Women’s Day newsworthiness? When do the women of Lesotho become newsworthy and noteworthy?

You know the grim news already. Lesotho is a hard place to be, whether one is reading or not. The annual per capita is $1000, which means over half, maybe as high as 70 some percent, of the population is living in poverty. Speaking of money, all the banking assets of Lesotho are owned by foreign banks. The economy is allegedly shifting to an industrial base, which thus far has meant Chinese and Taiwanese owned garment and textile plants, where women work. Men largely continue to work in South Africa, especially in the mines. Currently, 33,000 Basotho men work in South African mines, which helps explain the high incidence of HIV and AIDS as well as tuberculosis. Lesotho still has one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the world. Maternal mortality rates: also high. No guaranteed paid maternity leave, as in Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, oh yeah, and the United States of America. Unemployment is around 40%, life expectancy is around 40 years.

This is part of the context in which Basotho women currently live and organize. They are in labor movements, in local and national government, in protests and actions around big dams, around food prices, around … everything, including exclusionary practices.

Senate Masupha is the first-born child of David Masupha, the principal chief of Ha-‘Mamathe, Thupakubu and Jorotane. When he died, his wife ‘Masenate, who is Senate’s mother, became chief. When she died, everything thickened. Brothers insisted that Basotho tradition precluded the daughter from assuming the chieftaincy. Senate shot back that that is a violation of her constitutionally guaranteed rights. She also argued it’s nonsense. The Court decision is still pending.

Whatever the outcome, Senate Masupha is not going away, and that, hopefully, is a lesson for International Women’s Day 2012. Instead of ‘being surprised’ by decontextualized so-called data from development think tanks (and worse), celebrate the difficult, everyday accomplishments of extraordinary, everyday women. Celebrate Senate Masupha.

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.