By: Mpho Shelile

In a thought-provoking event, pupils from four high schools in Maseru engaged in a heated debate on whether it was the government’s responsibility to eradicate gender-based violence. The discussion, held at Lesotho High School last week Wednesday, unfolded in an atmosphere of intellectual rigor, as young minds grappled with the complexities surrounding this pressing social issue.

The first contests were from ‘Mabathoana High School as proponents and Lesotho High School as opponents. One of the primary arguments in favour of government intervention was the tremendous costs of GBV on individuals. The proponents advocated for government action due to the burden on families, communities and society. Another aspect emphasized was that government should enact laws that do not solely benefit men, but instead foster gender equality.

The opponents, Lesotho High School, contended that the government did not have enough resources to eradicate GBV single-handedly. Therefore, it was crucial to involve other stakeholders for a comprehensive response. The opponents highlighted the importance of a cultural shift (eliminating male dominance) in addressing GBV, which should involve everyone, not just the government. By empowering individuals through education and promoting respectful relationships, society would be seriously engaged in preventing GBV.

The second contest was between Mapetla High School as proponents and Leqele High School as opponents. One of the primary arguments in favour of the government’s role was that its obligation was rooted in international obligations, which emphasize the need for governments to take necessary measures to prevent and respond to GBV. The proponents argued that the government should incorporate GBV awareness and life skills education into the curriculum from primary school. Furthermore, they argued that governments should amend laws that inadvertently encourage GBV, such as those allowing underage marriages, instead promote gender equality and women’s rights.

Opposing the motion, Leqele High School argued that GBV eradication required collaborative effort from all sectors of society and that the government should not carry the sole responsibility, adding that governments sometimes prioritize their own interests over the welfare of the populace. The opponents also highlighted the significant role that NGOs play in consistently taking the lead in helping and supporting GBV survivors. They further argued that governments were not always the most reliable entities to combat serious social issues like GBV. As seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the incompetence of governments in leading large-scale responses became apparent.

A run-off was held between Lesotho High School and Leqele High School after they came at the top in the first round. After an exciting clash of intellect and wit that captivated the audience and showcased the power of critical thinking, research and articulation, Leqele High School emerged victorious, with Lesotho High School taking the second position, ‘Mabathoana High School taking the third and Mapetla High School taking the fourth.

The Women Network Forum (WNF) Chair, Ms. Lisemelo Ramafikeng said the debate was held to harness the energy and passion of the high schoolers because WNF firmly believes in the potential of the younger generation to create a lasting impact in the fight against GBV. The issue of gender-based violence (GBV) has plagued Lesotho for many years now. It is a pervasive problem that affects individuals regardless of their age, gender, or social status. “By providing them with a platform to engage in meaningful conversations and discussions surrounding GBV, we hope that they will be inspired to act and contribute to the fight against this injustice. They are the leaders of tomorrow and can make a significant impact in creating a safer and more equal society,” Ms. Ramafikeng underscored.

Vodacom Lesotho Foundation’s CSI and Sustainability Specialist, Ms. Pinki Manong said by promoting dialogue and awareness at an early age, it becomes more likely that the younger generation will grow up to be advocates for change. She added that early intervention plays a vital role in preventing GBV and fostering a culture of respect and equality. Organizing the debate during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the Women Network Forum seeks to engage the nation in open discussions about the root causes of GBV, its impact on individuals and society and potential solutions.

In an inspiring display of solidarity and determination, the Women Network Forum organized a powerful march as a means to raise awareness and address this pervasive problem head-on in September this year. With a resounding voice, they called for an end to gender-based violence and advocated for the rights and safety of women everywhere. The primary goal of the march was to draw attention to the urgent need for action against gender-based violence. By bringing this issue to the forefront of public consciousness, the Women Network Forum strove to initiate a dialogue that would result in concrete steps towards change. The event aimed to empower both survivors and advocates, providing them with a platform to share their stories, express their concerns, and demand justice.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a pressing issue that continues to plague Lesotho. It doesn’t not only pose a significant threat to individuals but also undermines the progress and development of the entire nation. GBV in Lesotho is characterized by high levels of brutality and prevalence. According to a recent study by United Nations in Lesotho, approximately 86% of women in Lesotho have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. This disturbing statistic sheds light on the urgent need for intervention and prevention measures.

The perpetration of GBV is influenced by a complex interplay of societal factors. Gender inequality, deep-rooted cultural norms, and a lack of awareness are all contributing elements. Lesotho’s patriarchal society often downplays the severity of violence against women, perpetuating a cycle of abuse and silence.

To combat GBV, it is essential to implement a multifaceted approach that encompasses education, legislation, and support services. Multiple organizations and stakeholders must collaborate to effect positive change. Introducing comprehensive gender equality education in schools to challenge discriminatory beliefs and behaviors and raising public awareness through media campaigns, workshops, and community dialogues to promote a culture of respect and non-violence could go a long way in curbing the scourge.

Enact strong and enforceable legislation to protect survivors and prosecute offenders and providing training to law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to sensitively handle GBV cases and support survivors could further strengthen the efforts to bury this pervasive social ill.

Establishing well-equipped and accessible counselling centres, shelters, and hotlines to offer immediate assistance to survivors and strengthen healthcare services to address the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of survivors should be a top priority for the government and all stakeholders.

In the final analysis, tackling GBV in Lesotho requires a sustained effort from the government, civil society, and individuals alike. By collaborating, utilizing a range of strategies, and engaging diverse communities, Lesotho can work towards a society free from gender-based violence.