In the eight years that as I have worked as a gender activist in Lesotho, Violence Against Women (VAW) has been the most disturbing form of gender inequalityI have encoutered.
Women from all backgrounds, ages and socio-economic status have experienced violence perpetrated by men in both their private and public lives, in rural and urban areas.
The 2013 Gender Links VAW baseline study in Lesotho revealed that 86 percent of women in Lesotho have experienced some form of violence at least once in their lifetime.
Lesotho is signatory to and has ratified the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development adopted by Heads of State in August 2008. 2015 has come and gone but the levels of GBV in Lesotho are nowhere close to being reduced at least not by half.
A major gap in addressing VAW in Lesotho has been the absence of domestic violence legislation. VAW among Basotho is still seen as a private matter, and most women do not report it. This is because women are made to believe that the man is the head of the household and that they must obey their husbands at all times. Women believe a husband has a right to control the wife at all times.
In the few cases reported, the police try to make peace between the victim and the husband. According to the study only 5% of women who reported cases of abuse had the police open a docket for them.
Emotional violence for most women includes being insulted or made to feel bad, being threatened, being intimidated or humiliated in front of people and being stopped for seeing friends or having their husbands choose who they should be friends with. This is so normal that women believe that being controlled by a partner means being loved. Emotional violence destroys self-confidence and prevents women making the best of her life.
Many Basotho men work in the mines in South Africa. This has resulted in economic abuse for many women who are often left in their homes with the children without receiving maintenance or support. Often the men get women at the mines and forget about their wives who are left at home with their children. Laws against abandoning parental responsibility are not taken that seriously.
Another form of economic abuse that women experience is being prevented by their husbands from being employed and earning money. It is common for men to feel threatened by women who are well off financially. Working women often have their earnings taken from them by their husbands.
Physical violence is also very common. Many women in Lesotho experience slapping, pushing, shoving and hitting with objects. Women who are abused sustain serious injuries and in some cases die.
Most women who have experienced physical violence seek medical assistance when they have been hurt. Most do not disclose that the cause of their injuries were their partners. It is common to hear a colleague or a friend that has been beaten by the partner saying that she has been hit by the door, the fridge, the table and so on, when the blue eye has been caused by the man's fist.
When the woman is hit by her husband she is made to believe that she has done something wrong and that the husband was reprimanding her. Some women even view being beaten by the husband as a sign that the husband dearly cares for her. Some women maintain that they enjoy the attention that they get after being beaten as the husband is scared that the wife might report the case and he might be arrested.
Even though the Sexual offences Act 2003 has stipulated that sexual abuse can take place within marriage, many Basotho still believe that the man has the right to have sex with his wife no matter what the circumstances may be.
The GL study showed that more than half of both women and men believe that there is no way that a man can be accused of raping his wife. Both men and women believe that the marriage, especially the payment of lobola gives the man a right to have sex with his wife every time he wants to.
Women experience sexual abuse from intimate partners and strangers. Elderly women are targeted because they often stay alone. Women are often scared of travelling in the dark as they easily fall victims of rape. In the current situation of drought and water scarcity, we hear stories over the radio that women get raped as they go and fetch water during the night or early hours of the morning.
Some women experience sexual harassment at the work place where they are expected to have sex with their supervisors for certain favours at the workplace.
The most effective form of ending GBV among women is to increasing the measures aimed at prevention. During the Sixteen Days of Activism the whole country should all unite to demand zero tolerance to violence against women.
I often get calls from the media at this time of the year wanting comment on different cases of violence that they reported on and often wonder why these only happen at this time of the year.
We must adopt a 365 days campaign against VAW throughout the year. In Sesotho we say "Lehlanya lea bokaneloa", so let us all unite in the fight against GBV.
(Mabetha Manteboheleng is GL Lesotho Country Manager. This article is part of the GLS special series on the Sixteen Days of Activism).
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