Women take a stand against Gender Based Violence


MASERU - WOMEN in Lesotho are taking a bolder stand against gender-based violence amid disappointment that the government has not yet responded to their Memorandum of Demands (MoD), which they submitted on August 1 this year. The women, working under the Total Shut Down Lesotho banner, want the government to demonstrate real commitment and political will in ending a normalised culture of violence against women in Lesotho.

They issued an MoD to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane through the office of the government secretary, at the beginning of this Women’s Month. Advocate Joanna Jonas of Total Shut Down Lesotho last week said they were still waiting for a response from the government and were disappointed by the lack of sense of urgency amid continued killings, sexual assaults and other forms of violence against women.

Adv Jonas was speaking during a gender-based violence dialogue session organised by Total Shut Down Lesotho and held at the American Corner in partnership with the American Embassy, last Saturday. “Violence against women has reached unacceptable levels and we expect the government to take this seriously. The multi-layered factors that have resulted in Lesotho being counted amongst the highest-ranking countries with unprecedented levels of violence against women is disturbing,” Adv Jonas said.

Police situation reports show that on a weekly basis, not less than 10 cases of various forms of violence against women are reported throughout the country. Adv Jonas further explained that while there have been numerous protests and activities undertaken with the aim to end violence against women, it was evident that without total integrated action by all relevant segments of society, as well as political will, gender-based violence will remain a big problem in Lesotho.

“As young women, we have been moved to take a stand and start employing various strategies that will ensure the prevention and protection of women and girls against gender-based violence. We have identified weaknesses in our legal systems, government structures and within our society, and made recommendations to help the government tackle this menace,” Adv Jonas said.

In their recommendations, Total Shut Down Lesotho proposed, among others, a strong message from the Prime Minister that gender-based violence against women, is pervasive and widespread and that it cannot be tolerated at any level of society. This includes a commitment never to appoint any individual who has been implicated or minimises the causes and consequences of gender-based violence to cabinet or to lead a state institution.

Further, they demand a commitment to establish and drive a multi-stakeholder and comprehensive process to address and reduce gender-based violence and would want the government to announce the dates of a National Gender Summit (NGS). The women also proposed a review of laws and action plans; the establishment of accountability and oversight mechanisms to ensure that an adopted National Action Plan is implemented; and the provision of prevention services that will focus on awareness-raising on the different forms of gender-based violence to help change negative attitudes.

Total Shut Down Lesotho Coordinator, Maseisa Molapo, said in most patriarchal societies in Africa, women continue to silently suffer gender-based violence due to weak systems which are failing to effectively prevent and respond to the violence and ultimately protect them. “In the end, women are raped, killed and economically punished because the mechanisms in place are failing to protect them,” Molapo said.

A participant at the dialogue, ‘Matseliso Mohale, has produced a movie titled 'The Mirror', which focuses on the violence perpetrated against women. The movie will be launched at the Victory Hall on September 1 and is expected to help raise awareness on the retrogressive effects of gender-based violence. She explained what makes gender-based violence complex in countries such as Lesotho is the fact that in most cases, the perpetrators are close or known to the survivors and victims.

“The are many reasons why women continue to endure violence, and this includes how we, as a society, have normalised gender-based violence. As a result, there is a laid-back approach in how it is tackled at various levels. We need to strengthen awareness- raising to empower women who, for various reasons, have come to accept and tolerate violence against them, particularly among married couples,” Mohale said.

On the other hand, Advocate ‘Matseliso Khesa emphasised the power of knowledge, explaining the need to educate women on the laws that provide for the protection of their rights. “It is quite a concern that we have women who are enduring the infringement of their rights despite the presence of various legislative frameworks that are supposed to protect them,” she told the meeting.

Adv Khesa attributed the rise of gender-based violence to limited utilisation of protective laws, weak support by various actors and limited education on what steps women can take to demand services from the various service-providers.Some participants at the dialogue session shared their testimonies, which exposed scars and bitterness towards those that let them down, including their families and service-providers. It was quite clear that many women in Lesotho continue to bear what could be viewed as unimaginable and unbearable in some parts of the world where governments have prioritised the elimination of gender-based violence for sustainable development.

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