Post Written By Stephanie Vizi
In 2006, married women in the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, gained equal legal standing to men under the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act.
Now, any woman can legally own land, receive inheritance, and make her own decisions. Prior to 2006, women in Lesotho were considered legal minors.
In 2003, the Sexual Offences Act was enacted to combat sexual violence. The Act officially defined all forms of unwanted sexual penetration as rape, not just vaginal penetration as it was prior to this Act. This act also gives legal rights and validity to men who have been raped. In addition, it states that marriage or any other relationship is not a legitimate defence to sexual violence.
10 Years Later
It’s been over 10 years since these laws were put into place to protect women from gender inequality and abuse. However, implementation has been slow, especially in rural, mountainous villages, which accounts for the majority of the Basotho population. According to Thato Letsela, Help Lesotho’s Officer for Leadership Centres, “In general in town things are changing, but in rural areas there are still problems.”
Even though the principal land legislation in Lesotho (first in the Land Act of 1979, then repealed by the Land Act of 2010) is gender neutral, customary practices provide that land is allocated primarily to men through inheritance, requiring women to access land through their husbands. The Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, aimed to eliminate such discrimination. However, a study conducted by Yvonne A. Braun in 2010 revealed that policies designed to compensate women and men who lost their land for the construction of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), reinforced the existing gender inequalities. Compensations were paid solely to men, while woman who lost their lands were disqualified.
Shasha Makhauta, Help Lesotho Youth and Gender Programs Coordinator, contributes Lesotho’s patriarchal environment to a lack of education and sharing information, “I think since 2006, women can now access loans like their husbands, the number of women in parliament and community councils had increased, thus they contribute a lot in the formulation of laws and developments in Lesotho. However, this only applies to educated women – women at the village level are not aware of their rights. They still regard their partners as the head of the families, which means husbands hold the power over decision-making for their families.”
For example, while working with women in a rural community, called Thaba Tseka, Makhauta realized most of women were beaten by their husbands. The women did not report the abuse because they said they felt it is the husband’s right to discipline his wife and did not consider it abuse.
Steps to Gender Parity
Girls and women are the most vulnerable population demographic in Lesotho. They are most likely to be suffering different types of abuse and are unable to access the support and resources they need. The information and strategies implored in girls and women through Help Lesotho programs is more likely to improve the lives of entire families, peer groups, and communities. On an annual basis, 75% of Help Lesotho’s beneficiaries are girls and women.
Establishing gender equity is essential to creating sustainable social change. Despite significant legislative changes promoting gender equity and the rights of women, cultural barriers and limited enforcement, continue to limit the implementation of these changes at the family, peer and community levels. Gender inequity severely impacts the opportunities of girls and women to make decisions for themselves. Abuse, sexual violence and HIV transmission are common issues that stem from power imbalances between men and women.
By empowering girls and educating boys, Help Lesotho is working to build a critical mass of people who are committed to gender equity. Help Lesotho programs support girls and women to heal from their trauma, while boys and men are intentionally included in the struggle for gender equity given their essential role in fostering sustainable behavioural change to achieve social justice.
Help Lesotho’s gender equity education and training is offered to young men as well as women because both genders require the knowledge and confidence to achieve gender equity, reduce gender-based violence and foster human rights. These 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.
Patriarchal values and norms create power imbalances and limit women’s rights, but with continued focus and awareness on achieving gender equity in Lesotho, hopefully in another decade, women will be living free of patriarchy and fulfilling their potential.
Cover Photo Credit: Dave Miller, Flickr Creative Commons