LERIBE – Women and girls need to empower each other to ensure that Lesotho wins in the fight against gender inequality.
This was said by Help Lesotho founder Dr Peg Herbert during a graduation ceremony for participants of the organisation’s Young Mothers initiative in Ha Ramapepe, Leribe on Tuesday.
Help Lesotho is a non-governmental organisation founded in 2004 by Dr Herbert to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS issues and to provide support to underprivileged people such as vulnerable children, girls, youths and grandmothers.
To date, 90 000 Basotho from Leribe, Thaba-Tseka and Butha-Buthe have benefitted from Help Lesotho’s various programmes that include education, leadership training and psychosocial support.
One such initiative is the Young Mothers’ Programme which brings young mothers together to participate in bi-weekly support groups in their communities.
Each group is supported by a young mother leader and Help Lesotho trained facilitator, with participants taught about pre- and post-natal care, basic parenting skills, contraceptives, good hygiene, nutrition, gardening and prevention of HIV mother-to-child transmission.
In conjunction with weekly facilitated sessions, each participant is encouraged to develop a support group with other young mothers in their villages. At the end of their training, each participant is given a M350 voucher to start a business.
Dr Herbert told the Lesotho Times on the side-lines of the ceremony that her organisation’s intention was to equip people with the information they needed to stand up for their rights.
“Access to democracy can be measured by how it treats women and girls and it is very exciting for me to see that our beneficiaries are now able to exercise their democratic rights,” she said.
Dr Herbet urged women and girls to empower each other instead of pulling each other down.
“Women must stop gossiping and being so hard on each other. Women need to stand with each other and fight for their rightful place in society. We are trying to help them have a voice in the society but they need to know that it comes from within.”
She said many of the graduates had low self-esteemed, were depressed with some also sexual abuse victims when they came to the Young Mothers’ Programme.
“They were struggling to forgive themselves and felt forgotten. That would break anyone’s heart,” Dr Herbert said, adding the programme had reversed the negativity and the young mothers were ready to “conquer the world”.
“They have been given a purpose in life. They are now confident and ready to work closely with each other to better their lives and work hard to give their children a better future.”
Nthabeleng Rakoti (19), who is a mother of an 18-month girl child, told this paper the programme had given her a new lease of life.
“When I first discovered that I was pregnant, I was very scared and didn’t tell my parents. When I eventually told them, my parents approached the father’s baby who denied paternity and that left me very depressed,” she said.
Feeling ashamed by her teenage pregnancy, Ms Rakoti said it took her four months to accept her condition and only started going to the anti-natal clinic five months into the pregnancy.
“Even though I religiously attended the clinic sessions, I was always worried by the fact that I didn’t know when my next meal would come from. I was worried my child would be born malnourished.”
With sexual encounters with multiple partners being commonplace in her community, Ms Rakoti said she had learnt to always use protection and to refuse advances when she was not ready.
“I am now confident and my no is no with regards to sex. I know that I shouldn’t prove my love for any man by having sex with them and that my body isn’t a sex tool for any man,” Ms Rakoti said assertively.
The young mother said the programme had also helped her to pursue her career dreams, adding “education is key for financial independence”.
Ms Rakoti is now selling grocery items at her home and able to provide her baby’s basic needs.
Another graduate, 29-year-old ‘Malehlohonolo Khoboso, said the programme had helped her become a better mother and wife.
“I was a very angry person and would shout at my two children and their father at any given point. But since undergoing this programme, I am now a happy person who has accepted her condition and working hard to have my own financial independence,” Ms Khoboso said.
She urged other young mothers to know that having a child was not the end of the road for them.
“There is still hope for everyone. I am a living testimony,” she said.