What happens to painful silent cries of young boys?

By:Thandiwe Kubere

With the world consistently creating awareness on 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence every November 25th, advocating for the rights of women and girls which continue to be stepped on, it is rather important also, to take into special consideration the causes of abuse, regardless of how big or small. Because how else can the problem be solved without knowing what causes it?

The previous week, Man Up Lesotho, Sports 24/7 Lesotho, and The College of Chiefs, in partnership with the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), joined hands in organizing the Men conference discussing on the international 16 days of activism against women and children. Here, men were educated on the healthy practices, approach and conduct in relation to sexual health. It also addressed and urged Basotho men to accept accountability in ending GBV. It further served as a safe platform where men could share their own experiences of abuse which affected their lives and shaped their behaviour towards others, without the fear of humiliation or judgement.  Thus giving them a safe space to express and begin on their healing journeys.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is often associated with men considered as perpetrators and women as victims, but is the same attention and sensitivity delivered when the roles are reversed? The answer needs quite a thought because at the end of the day, both genders are human and need the same tenderness when necessary. Often, African societal and cultural norms prohibit men from shamelessly expressing vulnerability because such is associated with weakness. Cases of men who are victims of GBV are rarely reported and left unattended, resulting in added anger and hatred towards the other sender. This is despite the fact that men who have been traumatised by abuse have been found to attempt or commit suicide.

Then again, there is a Sesotho adage, “Monna ke nku, ha a lle”, translating to a men should not cry, blatantly denying men the most common and mentally advised way of expressing and releasing pain. How then do they cry for help, who gives men permission to cry for help during trouble? Is there a point of stop, or the cycle goes on? At the conference, a number of men revealed that they have experienced abuse, either conducted on them or those close to them. One revealed that as a child, he frequently witnessed his father, every time he came home drunk, ruthlessly hit his mother for no reason, in their presence. And whenever they tried to defend, the rod would turn to them, thus filling them with so much anger and bitterness they knew not how to release. Leading to their own broken families, inability to properly express themselves, and low self-esteem.

Studies reveal that in South Africa alone, 60% of boys, before the age of 16, would have experienced sexual abuse. They then grow and are expected to take leadership roles in their communities and families without having received healing or therapy for that matter. Most of them go by without even sharing to people they are close with, because men are expected to be strong and grab the bull by the horns, adding to the frustration and bitterness which grows instead of heal. However, this does not excuse or condone abuse in any manner, but to reduce the high rate of GBV, proper ways have to be sought and young boys, similar to girls should be taken care of and taught the right ways of life, in a society that allows them to be human and extends the same kindness.

The conference revealed that men who report abuse, as compared to women are very few and men disclose abuse when thoroughly interrogated. This is mostly because of shame, thinking their cases will not be taken seriously or not properly dealt with, and the common long believe that men who report are weak. Abuse against men are often encountered by social and cultural norms and expectations, which set the perspective that men were heads of families hence were not supposed to express their feelings and emotions as society perceived that to be a weakness.

Another issue that was discussed during the conference was that of the abuse and disrespect towards sex workers. Lesotho (KAPAL) executive director, Lepheana Mosooane, says the legislation does not protect the rights of sex workers instead it encourages physical and sexual abuse of sex workers, hence a need for its cancellation. Mosooane said despite teaching sex workers about their rights including Sexual Health Rights Services, more sex workers are still being abused and infected with HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. He declared the country’s culture and Christian values were among the roadblocks derailing government from enacting laws which will legalise sex work and protect the rights of sex workers.

Moreover, Mosooane revealed that his office has numerous reports of sexual and physical abuse of sex workers not being well handled by the police who instead demand sex from the victims. His association has tried to intervene on behalf of the sex workers.

He, however, said that paradigms had shifted as there were now safe platforms within the police service, the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), availed to men to freely report abuse without fear of being put to shame.

Police Constable Retšelisitse Mosala stated that unlike the past days when people complained of humiliation, cases of abuse are no longer reported at the reception but at the Child and Gender Protection Unit where the victims are given privacy and police officers are trained to effectively handle cases of abuse without humiliating the victims.

Man Up Lesotho Executive Chairperson, Mpho Mahula, said as much as cases of abuse against men were not reported, a lot of men confided in their organisation, disclosing the abuse they endured in their families which they were scared to report, or make public.

 Mahula said at least 47 cases where men were victims of GBV had been reported to the association, of which 19 were cases of suicide and attempted suicide.