MASERU – Lesotho has the highest female suicide rate in the world at 24.4 suicides per 100 000 people, according to the World Bank. For each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. “Notably, Lesotho has the 10th highest overall suicide rate in the world and the highest in Africa. In 2018, suicides accounted for 1.67 percent of total deaths,” World Bank said in its latest report.
Titled Unlocking the Potential of Basotho Youth: Catalysing Youth Entrepreneurship and Employment, the report also states that: “Lesotho also has the highest female suicide rate in the world, at 24.4 per 100 000 (compared to 17.8 for males).”
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said he was stunned by these World Bank findings yesterday when Public Eye contacted him. “I will consult with our office which is responsible for keeping records to find out if the information they have corresponds with the World Bank findings,” Mopeli said. The median suicide rate for African countries in 2019 was 11.2 per 100 000 per people while the global average was 9.0 per 100 000 people in 2019. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines suicide as the act of deliberately killing oneself. Risk factors for suicide, WHO says, include job loss, financial stress and social isolation.
The disproportionate burden of household and care responsibilities that women continue to carry compared to men contributes to the financial disparities between the two sexes and is likely a significant source of distress for women leading to suicide. In 2011 Lesotho was ranked eighth in the world by the World Economic Forum (WEF) when it comes to bridging the gap between women and men. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Lesotho held the first position and was also the highest ranking country in the group of lower-middle-income countries.
In 2016, the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report ranked Lesotho 57 out of 144 countries on gender inequality. It is now ranked 92nd in the world and 14th in Sub-Saharan Africa. Public Eye was not able to get a comment from the minister of gender, youth, sports and recreation, Likeleli Tampane, yesterday as the person who answered her phone said she was in a management meeting. Gender inequalities also play a significant part in the youth unemployment landscape in Lesotho.
Young women are more vulnerable to unemployment than their male counterparts. “Although women in Lesotho tend to have better education outcomes, this is not translated to the labour market, with unemployment being significantly higher among women than men,” read the World Bank report, Lesotho Social Protection Programmes and Systems Review, that was published in June this year. Women are also vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) which is associated with poor long-term mental health such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Women with PTSD are nearly seven times more likely than other women to die by suicide, according to a 2020 study. The research – published in the Journal of Affective Disorders – was led by a team at the University College London (UCL) and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. “Lesotho has 63 percent prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and 57 percent in schools,” United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Lesotho said this week. “We therefore support the government of Lesotho in policy and advocacy for ending GBV and promoting gender equality and women empowerment,” UNFPA added.
Also, women in Lesotho bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic. According to the Lesotho Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) that was conducted between November 2016 and May 2017, HIV prevalence peaks at 49.9 percent among females ages 35 to 39 as compared to 46.9 percent among males ages 40 to 44 years. LePHIA results also showed that the disparity in HIV prevalence by sex is most pronounced among young adults – HIV prevalence among 20 to 24 years olds is four times as high among females (16.7 percent) as among males (4.0 percent).
According to WHO estimates published in June this year, among young people aged 15 to 29, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death worldwide after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence in 2019. In its report circulated by government this week, the World Bank indicated that youth in Lesotho faced a complex disease burden. It said according to data from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) from 2017, HIV was the largest driver of the burden of disease for youth, followed by self-harm.
Interpersonal violence, mental disorders, transport injuries and respiratory infections were also cited as the largest drivers of the burden for youth. “HIV prevalence is estimated at seven percent for both male and females aged 15 to 24 due to a range of factors including limited comprehensive knowledge of HIV prevention and poor access to prevention services due to structural barriers and socio-normative factors,” the report read.