‘Women remain silent until it’s too late’

Tsitsi Matope

Lithabaneng residents were left in a state of shock after the bloody, lifeless body of a 36-year-old woman was found in her bedroom on Monday this week.

Apart from the body, which had three deep stab wounds in the neck and at the back of the head, detectives who attended the crime also found the now-deceased’s husband lying on the floor and in a critical condition.

The 39-year-old man, who reportedly told the police that he had stabbed his wife following a domestic dispute, drank poison in an attempt to take his own life. He died hours later after his admission at the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.

This is but one of the many fatal cases of domestic violence which were reported to the police this month and ironically, during African Women’s Month.

The violence is cause for concern for organisations working tirelessly to end gender-based violence in Lesotho.

One such organisation is She-Hive, which advocates zero-tolerance of domestic violence and the violation of women’s rights.

The Lesotho Times (LT) this week met with the She-Hive Executive Director, Mamakhethe Phomane, to discuss why Lesotho is struggling to end gender-based violence.

LT: Could you please explain what constitutes gender-based violence?

Phomane: The 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) defines it as any act which results in or is likely to result in the physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering of women. This includes threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether happening in public or private life. When we talk of physical abuse, we mean sexual and psychological acts taking place in the family such as battering, sexual abuse of female children and other female members of the family, dowry-related violations, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditions harmful to women, non-spousal violence and other forms related to exploitation. The declaration also detail forms of violence occurring within the general community such as rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution. It also stipulates violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs.

LT: What could be the reason why, as a country, Lesotho seems to be struggling to break the cycle of the abuse of women and other forms of violence?

Phomane: I think as a country, we have not been able to effectively deal with the various factors which run deep within our socialisation. This, in the long run, promotes various forms of abuse perpetrated on girls and women. We have to start early at household and community levels to correctly educate both girls and boys on important life principles that foster peace, harmonious co-existence and equality.

For instance it is of high importance that they understand the importance of respecting one another. Girls should grow up confident, valuing themselves, not feeling like minors of their male counterparts or less special. While both men and women should master the importance of respecting each other, women especially should also know that life is also about their own happiness.

On the other hand, we have to understand that focusing only on empowering the girls will not balance the scale but create frustrated men who would struggle with their inadequacies and end up sometimes resorting to violence. Like the girl-child, the boy-child should be equally educated and firmly raised to become decent, responsible and understanding women as equal partners who deserve to be happy. It’s this spirit of togetherness and harmony which we should kindle early to make us a better people.

LT: When you talk of socialisation, what issues do you come across, which suggest society’s failure to deal with gender-based violence?

Phomane: I am not seeing the society as a whole collectively prioritising turning the tide or making enough effort to change behaviours or mindsets that promote gender-based violence and other abuses perpetrated on women.

In a recent research conducted by Gender Links in collaboration with governments and civil societies in Lesotho, Botswana, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, four provinces of South Africa and four districts in Zambia, it showed that 86 percent of women in Lesotho have experienced gender-based violence in both their private and public lives.

The research also showed a 62 percent lifetime prevalence rate of women who suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners and that eight percent of women suffer sexual violence by men they are not intimately involved with.

I think these figures highlight the magnitude of work we need to do to turn the tide. And we can only realise positive transformation if we introduce a combination of strategies that can shape us in a certain way and effectively respond to crimes perpetrated on women and girls.

Although I cannot immediately provide statistics, the pattern in Lesotho points to high rates of sexual offences, high cases of unwanted teenage pregnancies, girls getting married before completing secondary education, trafficking in women and forced prostitution among other forms of violence. All these incidences point to deficiencies in the upbringing, weaknesses of the perpetrators and also the systems we have in place that are supposed to tackle GBV.

LT: What can be done as an immediate intervention to help survivors of domestic violence?

Phomane: Dealing with the effects of how some people were socialised or how they respond to their circumstances is a complex ongoing exercise. I think the most important entry to tackling gender-based violence is for all people in various situations to speak out. The reason why we are globally seeing many women killed or maimed by their partners is because they remain silent until it’s too late. If reported early, domestic violence can be stopped before it gets out of hand. The challenge is speaking out to the right authorities or people who can help and also for the survivors to understand that they have a right to take action against violence and abuse.

LT: What do we have in place to help the survivors, in terms of laws and other interventions particularly by She-Hive?

Phomane: Our legal framework makes various provisions that seek to rehabilitate sex-offenders and other forms of gender-based violence under the Sexual Offences Act, Married Persons Equality Act and marriage in community of property. However, to strengthen these interventions ,we need a Domestic Violence law, which can directly respond to cases of GBV. What we have at the moment is a Domestic Violence Bill.

It is also important to understand that in order for the laws to make a positive impact, women and girls should be educated and help them become aware of how the laws can help them.

Funds permitting, we would like to do a lot of work at She-Hive to help women understand their rights and the laws they can utilise to get justice and peace.

It is wrong to silently endure abuse or violence no matter how many cattle the spouse paid as lobola.

Currently, through our monthly ‘Circle Meetings’ we meet both women and men who speak out about the difficulties they come across in their relationships. They exchange ideas and solutions. We are finding this exercise quite useful because it helps the survivors share and know that there is always a way out of difficult situations.

LT: What would you say is one of the major challenges faced by women in violent or unhappy marriages and how do you deal with it?

Phomane: Many women in violent relationships find it difficult to opt out. It is not for us to encourage divorce but we help by sharing the various options they can pursue based on the nature of the problem faced. We also provide psycho-social support through our counseling sessions.

LT: Have you managed, through the Circle Meetings, to identify why it is difficult for some women to separate or divorce if it seems to be the only practical option?

Phomane: There are many reasons but it still boils down to the issue of socialisation which I highlighted earlier on. Most women were not raised to have a clear understanding of issues pertaining to love, sustaining relationships or marriages and also the fact that marriages can fail to work. As a result, when the marriage falls apart, many remain in a state of denial or don’t know what steps they can take to help themselves. This is mainly because for some, the life-teachings they received when growing up did not prepare them on how else to tackle a troubled marriage apart from enduring and working hard to save it. Many people usually visit our offices when all family structures and other authorities have failed to provide solutions. In some cases it’s an issue of refusing to accept the inevitable and rejecting practical solutions.

Based on my experience, some women stay in violent and difficult marriages because they want the status that comes with being married. As a result, they would do all they can to remain under the same roof with their spouses even if it means sleeping in separate bedrooms. Other push factors are economic and that is why we have just started mobilizing resources to establish small projects meant to economically empower women in need.

Other factors include the shame some women think is associated with being a divorced woman while others cite difficulties and fear associated with raising children as a single, divorced mother.

However, it is also important to understand that while the many cases of gender-based violence we deal with are reported by women, we also come across disturbing cases of men who are also emotionally traumatised by their female spouses.

 

 

 

 

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