By Thoboloko Ntšonyane
LERIBE – Women and girls often bear the brunt of abuse in various forms, be it individually and at societal level.
They find themselves at the receiving end of the situations that disadvantage them including violence and abuse; whether physical, emotional, psychological and otherwise. These could be societal, in family, cultural, structural and institutional.
The abuses can manifest in many forms including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and other forms and those not only undermines their dignity as human beings but also impinges on their human rights including that of safety and well-being.
Nestled on the outskirts of Leribe is Tšehlanyane and it boasts many villages. Last week, men and boys around Tšehlanyane, Leribe resolved to take a stand against women and girls and also become allies in the fight against abuse and violence.
They had resolved to recognize and treat women as their equal in society.
The contingent of men from around the villages within the Tšehlanyane area also pledged to stop and shun acts of violence and abuse towards women.
Despite the annual 16 Days of Activism against GBV including various efforts to address the issue of violence and abuse against the females, the cases of GBV still persist. Like many countries, Lesotho has signed and is a party to many conventions and treaties aimed at addressing GBV and advancing gender equality.
They include the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), it requires the signatories to take measures that will eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it advances women’s rights and gender equality, the African Protocol on the Rights of Women, is about promoting and protecting women’s rights, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and they are for gender equality and empowerment of both women and girls, the famous Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which advocates for rights for all regardless of gender and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, recognizes the rights and freedoms for all Africans.
Leribe district is reported to have a high rate of incidents of GBV.
According to Sub-Inspector Makara-Thulo from the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) in Leribe for the period between April 2022 to March 2023 a total of 38 cases related to sexual offenses have been recorded. These cases involved both women and children, with the majority, 25, specifically concerning offenses against children.
Within the Tšehlanyane communities, the Leribe CGPU office had recorded a total of 160 GBV cases. While some of them are being investigated, others have not been pursued further. She said they employ the restorative justice approach to address GBV, focusing on promoting reconciliation and rehabilitation rather than punitive measures. This approach, she said, is usually employed when dealing with family issues.
Among the recorded cases, there were 12 abductions targeting young girls and four cases related to indecent assault, wherein there have been an attempt at penetrating the victim but such was unsuccessful.
In instances involving children, Sub-Inspector Thulo said they invoked the provisions of the Child Protection Welfare Act of 2011 in 15 incidents that have been reported to their office. This legislation serves to protect and ensure the welfare of children facing challenging circumstances. One concern she highlighted is that some parents, especially mothers, leave their children without adequate care when they seek opportunities, exposing the children to risks and vulnerabilities.
The Counter Domestic Violence Bill Act 2022, which was passed last year by Parliament has been touted as a significant milestone in the ongoing battle against GBV. This law introduces stiff penalties aimed at deterring perpetrators, while also prioritizing the safety and well-being of victims.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently visited the district in a move to push for invention efforts aimed at safeguarding the wellbeing of women and girls who are usually victims of abuse and violence.
National Program Analyst for Adolescents and Youth at UNFPA, ‘Maseretse Ratia said many challenges confronting women and girls are as a result of “gender inequality” and these include abuses such as sexual offenses. “Sexual offenses happen because when a girl or a woman says no, that voice reaches to a deaf ear, and if women and girls were listened to, we would not be having cases of sexual offense,” she said.
Child marriages, she said, happen because parents make decisions for their children without engaging them and hearing from them what they want.
Ratia emphasized the significance of promoting sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) awareness. This she said includes understanding that girls and women possess the right to make decisions about their reproductive and sexual well-being.
She pointed out that it is equally essential for men and boys to recognise and respect these rights, acknowledging that the females have the freedom to choose their sexual partners, decide when to engage in sexual activities, and make decisions about their bodies, including family planning.
Empowering women and girls
Empowerment initiatives including education and awareness campaigns which have been touted as having an impact in the mitigation of violence and abuse against women and girls. These capacity building focuses amongst others promoting equality, challenging cultural and societal stereotypical connotations and myths that they are less inferior to men and boys.
Some of the women and girls which this publication talked to, showed that through attending empowerment sessions where boys and men also took part, had their self-confidence boosted and better appreciate their worth in society.
Seipati Khabo, a young resident of Ha-Khabo, has strongly advocated for the implementation of laws that holds perpetrators accountable for their actions. She emphasized the importance of recognizing the inherent value of women and girls, asserting that their rights should be respected and upheld.
According to Khabo, women and girls should have the freedom to exercise their rights, including the right to make choices about their sexual relationships. She believes that it should not be solely the responsibility of boys to initiate sexual encounters, but rather, girls should have the agency to express their desires and preferences in this regard.
Engaging men and boys
Boys and men showed that they will respect and shun all forms of abuse and violence against women and girls.
They further resolved to change their attitudes towards practices that disadvantage the females in their families and the communities.
Tholang Lehloba, a resident of Tšehlanyane has made a commitment to respecting and actively listening to women and girls whenever they voice their concerns, particularly on matters that impact their lives. He strongly opposes the practice where men would make decisions without involving their partners as he believes doing so is an infringement upon their rights to have a voice within their family matters.
Lehloba also holds the view that denying women the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes within families amounts to a form of abuse.
From Mapheaneng also in Tšehlanyane, Matheko Teanye shares similar sentiments, saying as community leaders they have to take decisive actions against GBV.
The 77 year old said the training has equipped them to detest all forms of abuse in families and communities, also denouncing the practice of denying women a chance to have a say in the family.
Teanye vowed to fight the incident of child marriages happening in his villages. He said there are also intergenerational marriages involving teenagers and older men.
To him, he knew that child marriage amounted to crime but did not appreciate the seriousness of this crime against the girl child through violating their rights such as disrupting their education and putting their health at risk, saying as the Chief he will be in the forefront in standing up against this crime.
Education and prevention
In a national survey conducted in 2014, it was found that 33 percent of women in Lesotho and 40 percent of men believed that wife beating could be justified.
An MP (Member of Parliament) for Pela-Tšoeu No. 10, Hon. ‘Mope Khati believes that gender inequality is a “very complex, societal-cultural-structural” phenomenon. He said deliberate efforts including the enactment of responsive laws and their enforcement are the requirements to buttress the crimes against women and girls.
Addressing these issues, the experts had warned of a multifaceted approach needed involving individuals, communities, governments, law enforcement and civil society organizations (CSOs) working in concert to mitigate these problems.
If not enough efforts are invested and all stakeholders do not come on board to mitigate abuse and violence in society especially against women, children and girls, the country is likely to witness increased rates of GBV, femicides, and the consequences of these will likely to spill off and burden the already strained health system, and impact on socio-economic development as the victims participation in workforce and economy will drop.
It is also feared that since these crimes violate human rights, the efforts to advance and promote equality and justice for all will be significantly undermined.
Throwing their weight behind the government’s efforts, the UNFPA’s Lesotho Officer in Charge, Richard Delate recently said “as UNFPA, we cannot sleep lightly as long as women are dying…we cannot sleep as long as women’s bodies continue to be violated by men in the communities and households”.