LESOTHO this week joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Women’s Day.
The day serves as a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.
This year’s event is being celebrated under the theme ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’.
To mark the day, Parliament will – in collaboration with the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Lesotho -host a session to reflect on actions to advance the rights of women and girls in the country. The two parties will also present some of the legislative initiatives relevant to the achievement of gender equality.
The session will comprise an intersectional dialogue between Parliament and women’s rights and youth groups, other civil society organisations, academic institutions and the media.
“The Parliament of Lesotho and the EU in Lesotho views International Women’s Day as a timely reminder of the efforts and toils of thousands of women in years gone by who fought for women’s rights and gender justice. We are glad to contribute to creating an opportunity for an exchange between elected representatives and the citizenship notably on relevant legislation to promote gender equality,” says EU Ambassador, Paola Amadei, of her organisation’s ongoing efforts to assist in the fight for gender equality in Leotho.
According to UN Women, from the earliest days of computing to the present age of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, women have made untold contributions to the digital world in which we increasingly live. Their accomplishments have been against all odds, in a field that has historically neither welcomed nor appreciated them.
The organisation however, notes that a persistent gender gap in digital access keeps women from unlocking technology’s full potential. Their underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers remains a major barrier to their participation in tech design and governance. And the pervasive threat of online gender-based violence—coupled with a lack of legal recourse—too often forces them out of the digital spaces they do occupy.
However, digital technology is opening new doors for the global empowerment of women, girls and other marginalised groups. From gender-responsive digital learning to tech-facilitated sexual and reproductive healthcare, the digital age represents an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate all forms of disparity and inequality, UN Women says.
For most Basotho women, such opportunities spawned by the ongoing digital revolution are all but a pipe dream. They remain preoccupied with their fight for emancipation from gender-based violence (GBV), rape, killings and other socio-cultural and economic ills.
According to local analysts, Lesotho merely goes through the motions and International Women’s Day is rendered a meaningless ritual by the continued failure by the government, police and other stakeholders to stop violent crimes being committed against women on a daily basis.
The trail of unsolved murders is very long. Even in the rare cases where the suspects have been apprehended by the police, the judiciary has inexplicably failed to ensure justice for the victims.
It is therefore no wonder that analysts are raging at the meaninglessness of International Women’s Day commemorations in Lesotho.
Only concrete action by the government and women themselves will help to address escalating women’s rights violations, they say.
Time is not on the government’s side and it needs to act fast to stem the tide of the killings of women which continue to escalate with each passing week.
Mantsalla Ramakhula, Lesotho Council of Non Governmental Organisations’ Women and Children Commission Coordinator, says the country needs to enact laws to specifically criminalise GBV.
Many women in marriages or partnerships often find themselves at the receiving end of GBV because there is no law criminalising it, she says.
We couldn’t agree with her more.
Imposing harsh sentences on offenders could also go a long way in stemming some of the violence against women.
Educational campaigns targeting males from an early age are also needed to build a society that respects women’s rights and to encourage them to refrain from rape, violence and murders of women. Otherwise global events like International Women’s Day will remain meaningless to Basotho women.
To its credit, parliament recently passed two important Bills that could go a long way in addressing the plight of women. These are the Counter Domestic Violence Act, 2022, and the Harmonising of the Rights of Customary Widows with the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, 2022.
The former aims to protect the rights of all citizens in domestic relations including children who are victims of all forms of abuse – economic, social, physical, sexual, technological, emotional, verbal and psychological.
On the other hand, the Harmonising of the Rights of Customary Widows with the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, 2022, aims to enhance the economic status of the customary widows to enable them to exercise their economic and property rights in line with the provision of the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, 2006.
With the recent enactment of the two Bills, Lesotho has at least taken the initial important steps towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals SDG 5 – fostering gender equality and empowering women and girls. The two laws have created a glimmer of hope. But much more will need to be done. Not least ensuring the actual implementation of these laws in both form and spirit.