By Stephanie Vizi

Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that affects us all – women and girls, men and boys.

Everyone benefits socially, politically and economically from gender equality. When women are empowered, the whole of humanity benefits. Gender equality liberates not only women but also men, from prescribed social roles and gender stereotypes.

The Harsh Reality of Gender Inequity in Lesotho:

  • Lesotho has the world’s 2nd highest rate of AIDS
  • Women are more vulnerable to contracting HIV—in the 15-24 age bracket, 1/4 of men and HALF of young women have HIV or AIDS.
  • Based on GDP, Lesotho’s poverty level ranks #149 out of 184 countries
  • Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, leading to: lack of education … human trafficking … prostitution …  depression … hopelessness
  • 61% of women in Lesotho have experienced some form of sexual violence
  • Powerlessness and vulnerability lead to sexual violence and abuse
  • Patriarchal values and norms create power imbalances and limit women’s rights
  • Stereotyping of girls and women as ‘lesser’ leads to: early marriage … bride prize … lack of land rights … inability to be decision-makers

A global review carried out by the World Health Organization confirmed that programs engaging men and boys from a “gender transformational” perspective are the most effective way to reach this target group.

Men and boys who participate in Help Lesotho programming are making a difference in their families, workplaces and communities. Help Lesotho engages men and boys as leaders to break the silence, raise their voices and take action to achieve gender equality.

Focus on Gender Equality

blog 11Help Lesotho provides a safe, non-judgmental environment to question and openly discuss issues related to gender equity in an atmosphere of psychosocial support to foster understanding by boys, girls and women. Discussions on gender challenge harmful practices, rigid social norms, gender-based violence, abuse and unhealthy relationships.

For example, Help Lesotho’s Herd Boy Program, is a six-month training aimed at empowering young men with knowledge and coping strategies for positive behavioural and social change, including gender equity awareness and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The men emerge from the program as community leaders and are encouraged to share their knowledge with other herd boys within their communities and social networks. This structure leads to life-saving information dissemination and increases the reach of Help Lesotho’s work in the mountain kingdom.

Help Lesotho’s gender equity education and training are offered to young men as well as women because both genders require the knowledge and confidence to achieve equity, reduce gender-based violence and foster human rights. The programs address these challenges by fostering doubt about unhealthy myths and beliefs, enhancing the cognitive skills required for analysis and healthy decision making, examining the components of self-esteem and self-protective behaviours, and practicing simple strategies for self-protection.

Even though most forms of gender discrimination affect girls and women, international research clearly suggests that dominant forms and perceptions of masculinities among young boys become the primary cause for male risk-taking behaviour including street violence, unsafe sexual practices and misogyny.

At Help Lesotho’s two community centres, located in rural Lesotho, staff work to teach the tenants of gender equity to everyone who enters the centre’s gates: from preschoolers to grandparents.

Clubs are also run for hundreds of students in local schools called, Youth Empowerment in Schools (YES) Clubs, to provide students with a forum to talk openly about the impact the HIV/AIDS pandemic has on their lives. Weekly after-school meetings are led by Help Lesotho trained youth leaders. Each meeting focuses on carefully sequenced life skills topics such as self-esteem, teenage pregnancy, rape and abuse and how these issues relate to HIV/AIDS and gender equity. The clubs build awareness within the student body and surrounding communities while equipping youth to make healthy choices.

Moving Forward

By empowering girls and educating boys, Help Lesotho is working to build a critical mass of people who are committed to gender equity. Our programs support girls and women to heal from their trauma, while intentionally including boys and men in the struggle for gender equity given their essential role in fostering sustainable behavioural change to achieve social justice.

It is essential to focus the work with adolescent boys on sexuality and gender equality to develop young leaders and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Lesotho. Women and girls can not fight gender discrimination on their own. They need to work with men and boys to reach sustainable changes.

Cover Photo Credit: Arsenie Coseac, Flickr Creative Commons

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