By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – In a transformative efforts, local leaders from different walks of life had gathered in a quest to challenge the gender norms aimed at fighting the spread of the HIV/AIDS.

These leaders meeting is expected to drive a positive change and contribute towards more responsive HIV/AIDS action.

Recently SAfAIDS, an organization that advocates for integrated effective and ethical development response to sexual and reproductive health rights through enabling gender equality, social inclusion and resilience for all, convened local leaders’ ‘champions’ capacity building for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) to end HIV among Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW).

 “SAfAIDS, with support from UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, is implementing the GESI 2 End HIV 4 AGYW programme. The programme aims to strengthen the capabilities of AGYW-led and affiliated CSOs, generate local leadership to champion gender-equal AGYW-led HIV response and scale up cross-learning through addressing gender inequalities within the ESA Region, with key activities in Eswatini, Lesotho and Malawi,” SAfAIDS has said.

The SAfAIDS, Country Focal Person, Advocate ‘Mamofuta Kale said men were not previously engaged on HIV related issues.

She emphasized the need to fight the spread of HIV and arresting high prevalence of the HIV/AIDS incidences among adolescents and youth.   

An MP (Member of Parliament) who is also in a Social Cluster Committee, Hon Mohlominyane Tota emphasized that the nation needs healthy sex and reproductive practices.

He mentioned that individuals aged between 10 and 24 years engage in risky sexual practices.

Call to action
                                                                                                                                                                                          According to UNAIDS, in 2019, Lesotho had 190 000 females aged 15 and above living with HIV, while the number for males was sitting at 130 000.

It further says, vulnerable to HIV, adolescent girls and young women (aged 15-24) constituted 25 percent of the 11 000 new HIV infections reported in Lesotho during 2019.

During the World Aids Day, 2017 His Majesty King Letsie III remarked that he is “troubled mostly by the reports coming out of the country on rising trends in infection for adolescent girls and young women and appeal to all to ensure they access the right information and sexual and reproductive health services”.

Meanwhile, the champions emphasized the importance of providing separate sexual and reproductive health services (SRHR) for young people upon their diagnosis, rather than having them integrated with the general hospital population. They believe that establishing youth-friendly services will enable effective monitoring of their health progress, adherence to medication and they will also be able to freely express themselves to health professionals.

Additionally, they raised a concern about the focus primarily being on medication follow-up for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, while their diet intake is often overlooked. They highlighted that proper nutrition is equally crucial for ensuring the well-being and recovery of HIV patients.

Public education

They underscored that  public education should be rolled out nationwide to address the pressing issue of the HIV/AIDS and promoting strategies for adopting healthy lifestyles and sexual practices.

Maseru Senior Magistrate Peter Murenzi contends that some children result from unhealthy sexual behaviors, advocating for stricter legal measures to ensure parental responsibilities especially men to take responsibility for their upbringing and welfare.

He said the efforts need to be redoubled to sensitize men about maintenance who are often found wanting.  He said according to law, maintenance is paid until a child reaches ages of 25.

The Magistrates argued that some of the soapies have significant influence on children’s behavior in terms of their perceptions to sexual intercourse and romantic relationships. He fears that due to their vulnerability, they easily internalize some of the behaviors on gender roles, expectations about love and sex that they pick from the television as they are unable to distinguish between fiction and reality.

Murenzi advises that parents should guard against any potential influence the soapies can have on their children.  

They expressed disapproval of sexual activities happening among family members emphasizing that the importance of providing education to children about these matters within the family context. Champions also highlighted the necessity for parents to cultivate friendships with their children and this they said will enable them to confide and report such incidents when they encounter them.

These measures, they argued, would contribute significantly to reducing the transmission of HIV within communities.

Unplanned pregnancies

The unplanned pregnancy they said sometimes is a result of both rape and poverty which could influence the reproductive outcomes.

With limited access to sex education, contraceptives and family planning service, these factors they believe result in “unintended” pregnancy.  

Treat abuse as emergency

Mahapela Masiu, a nurse, advocates that abuse particularly gender based violence (GBV) should be treated as an “emergency”. This move will not only be crucial for acknowledging its immediate danger and harm to the victims, but also will prompt the appropriate stakeholders to respond with a sense of urgency to help prevent it, provide support and prioritize safety and well-being of survivors.

He believes this move will send a message that the government is committed to ending this violence and consequently places premium on the rights and dignity of all the people.

Encouraging responsible behavior

They stressed that it is important for partners to be open and communicate about their HIV statuses. Encouraging responsible behavior they said will lessen the rate of the spread of HIV.

They argued that this ensures a safe and healthy environment within the relationships, protecting both partners and preventing the spread of the virus. Open and honest conversations strengthen and promote well-being.

Embracing positive gender roles

Rev Teboho Chaka emphasized that HIV and reproduction pertains to both men and women. He highlighted the importance of men’s active participation and engagement in matters related to sexuality and reproduction.

Rev Chaka suggested that Basotho should maintain and embrace their culture, while also imparting valuable teachings to children about contributing to family chores. He advocated for the shift away from what is normally referred to gender-based labeling and assignments of roles in a family setting.

He further stressed the significance of nurturing boys to treat girls with respect and discouraged any form of violence against the latter.