Three soldiers in the Lesotho army are fighting their dismissals over pregnancy

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UPDATE: The three women soldiers who were dismissed from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) after falling pregnant have finally gotten justice. On 14 February, the Lesotho High Court ruled that it was illegal and invalid for the LDF to demand that women soldiers do not become pregnant during their first five years in the army for fear of dismissal. The court also that there are laws and regulations which allow for pregnant women to serve in the army and even to go on maternity leave. Anneke Meerkotter of the Southern African Litigation Centre who assisted with the case said the case sets an important precedent for other courts in the region. She said the court has shown “that the culture of patriarchy used to justify discriminatory practises against women cannot be sustained by the courts.”

Three soldiers who were dismissed from the Lesotho army for falling pregnant say the rules around their dismissal are unfair, and are determined to be reinstated and compensated. The Daily Vox team rounds up.

The trio were discharged from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) after falling pregnant, though one of the privates later suffered a miscarriage. The LDF discharged them on grounds of Standing Order No.2 of 2014 which says states that any female soldiers with less than five years’ service who gets pregnant will be discharged from the force. The Standing Order came into effect from March 2014. The three privates were recruits at the time.

Former army commander lieutenant general Tlali Kamoli who was responsible for introducing the standing order said there was no room for childbearing in the army because of the heavy artillery that its members would be using.

“This group will not be expected to have children for the next five years because we have very big things planned for them,” Lt-Gen Kamoli said at the time.

Privates Lieketso Mokhele, Masaule Letima and Masine Ntsoha filed a petition before the court in December 2016 to be reinstated in the army. They had been dismissed on 22 March 2016.

The soldiers challenged their discharge, which took place without a trial or court martial, at the Lesotho High Court. They said the dismissal decision was unlawful, unreasonable and irrational because there was no trial or proper hearing.The soldiers claim the Standing Order is unlawful as it is contrary to public policy and there is no justification behind it. The trio seeks reinstatement without any loss of benefits arising.

The respondents in the case – the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), minister of defence and national security and the attorney-general – have responded that the Standing Order was communicated to all recruits and members of the army at the time. They also state in the court papers that the recruits acquiesced to the the Standing Order.

All of the women wrote in affidavits stating that, contrary to the charges of their dismissal sheet in which the LDF seems to imply that they deliberately got pregnant and contravened the law, all of their pregnancies came as a shock to them. Mokhele says the Standing Order deliberately discriminates against women as men who have children are not discharged. One of the women had a miscarriage two weeks after she was charged. The women all said they expected to get a proper disciplinary process but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

The women appeared in the Lesotho High Court on Monday, 11 November but the matter has been further postponed for judgment to be handed down. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre is supporting advocate Monaheng Rasekoai in the case.

The court will have to decide whether the trio should have been dismissed by either court martial or trial, whether the Standing Order is irrational, unlawful and contrary to public policy and whether the Standing Order was unlawful and unjustifiable.

The Lesotho Federation of Women Lawyers has condemned the army’s decision. A lawyer from the federation, Koena Thabane said: “As the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence are being commemorated internationally and locally, it has come to our attention that in these 16 days, there is a court case in the High Court of Lesotho involving three female soldiers who were fired from the LDF for falling pregnant.” Thabane also said the standing order went against the efforts made by the country to eradicate gender-based violence.

Featured image via MaxPixel