Connect with us


Women abuse: the unfinished story



As I was preparing for this article, I came across a news item in thepost newspaper of April 8 – 14, 2021, headlined: ‘Tough law for domestic violence.’ A similar article, albeit hidden in the middle pages, came up in another local paper. ‘The Counter Domestic Violence Bill’ represents a massive milestone in Lesotho’s women’s emancipation endeavours. A woman, a potential victim, champions the Bill. According to the positioning of these articles in these newspapers, gender violence and rape are peripheral matters. They are not worthy of front-page coverage. As Makeba says, it is: ‘aluta continua’, for Basotho women. These incidents confirm Dr Molapo’s assertion that gender equality and redress do not occupy much space in Lesotho’s discourse. Society must do more to fully emancipate women in our patriarchal society of male supremacy and women domination by men. This article is a continuation of an unfinished story: ‘Women must free themselves’ of February 25 – 3 March 2021. The theme in this article is the same, ‘No man shall liberate women. Women must pull the bull by its horns and emancipate themselves.’ The Minister of Gender Youth, Sports and Recreation is carrying her share of the baton in Lesotho. As the title of this article suggests, I focus on women abuse. The article argued that Lesotho has normalised gender violence. I gave an example of the controversial bail hearing and outcome where the leading actors and the murdered victim were women. Murder is a capital offence in Lesotho. Two actors were highly qualified legal personnel in Lesotho, one, an acting chief justice, and the other, the Director of Public Prosecutions. The murdered victim was the estranged wife of the prime minister-elect. This murder raised eyebrows worldwide, yet Lesotho’s legal system trivialised it. According to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) proposal for Transitional Justice Commission (TJC), this murder is high profile. The TJC is a SADC-sponsored lethal assault of the Lesotho legal system and Basotho’s collective intelligence by the politicians. They propose to make awful crimes lawful. The UNAID describes Lesotho as a country with one of the highest rape and intimate partner crime rates in the world. Lesotho under-publishes gender indicators in national databases. She loses information that would enable her to understand the impact of patriarchy and gender injustice on Basotho society. The Commonwealth estimates that the ‘disgusting pandemic’ of domestic violence scourge costs Lesotho M1.9 billion per year. Domestic violence has a price tag. The plague drains Lesotho in numerous ways. These include loading health, police and judicial services, fostering absenteeism at work and school and permanently damaging children who witnessed it, affecting future generations. One in three Basotho women, or 33.3%, suffered physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, often by a partner. The government must declare a state of emergency for the scourge of this ‘disgusting pandemic.’ Lesotho’s gender violence statistics are disheartening. Domestic violence is the ‘other’ pandemic Lesotho must fight. The NGO, Gender Links, revealed that in 2014, 62% of women in Lesotho had experienced intimate partner violence, and 86% had experienced gender-based violence in their lifetime. They showed that 8% of women had experienced rape, while 16% of men admitted to committing rape. 68% of physically abused women spent days in bed due to their injuries, and 24% had to miss work due to injuries. 7% of the women raped by an intimate partner attempted suicide, and 12% raped by non-partners had attempted suicide. There is a direct causal link between the HIV/AIDS prevalence and gender violence. The World Economic Forum found the prevalence of HIV among males aged 15 – 49 was 18.7% compared to 27.9% among their female counterparts. But statistics give an exciting account when it comes to education. In 2015 UNESCO estimated that the adult male literacy rate was 65.52% compared to 84.96% for the adult female literacy rate. In the same light, the gross male enrolment ratio in higher education institutions (HEI) was 8.65%, and their female counterparts were 13.07%. The 2018 Education Statistics Bulletin shows that there were 13 982 (or 61.3%) female students enrolled in HEIs. The total enrolment was 22 802. 61.4% of females graduated from HEIs over the same period. The UNESCO reports that in 2005, 36.5% of female students were enrolled in engineering, construction and manufacturing tertiary education programmes. But the profile of the teaching staff members is different. 48.7% of the teachers in HEIs are female. This article does not present all educational statistics. But statistics confirm that Basotho women are highly knowledgeable. The Bill defines domestic violence as an act, omission or behaviour which inflicts pain and injury on a person physically, sexually, emotionally, verbally, psychologically and economically. It applies to people in a domestic relationship. It outlines these groups of people. The Bill also recognises the discrimination experienced by certain groups of people by their age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It hopes to eradicate existing abusive practices such as forced child marriages, levirate and surrogate marriages, sex between parents and children that degrade the vulnerable, especially children and women. The name: ‘the Counter Domestic Violence Bill’ is counterproductive. The words ‘counter’ and ‘violence’ in the name negatively portrays the Bill. The words carry negative connotations debilitating the Bill instead of advancing good conduct. They magnify the consequences while diminishing the good intentions of the Bill. It must affirm women as human beings and augment their rights. Also, it must promote good citizenry while at the same time deterring and punishing abhorrent behaviour. In other words, the state is reactionary instead of being proactive. The Bill must reinforce good conduct while diminishing undesired behaviour. Thus, those who infringe these rights must be condemned, and they will bear the consequences. South Africa proclaimed a similar act in 1998, the Domestic Violence Act. It intends to protect vulnerable people. It defines domestic violence as a pattern of behaviour used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence when one person believes they are entitled to control another. Domestic violence includes marital rape, violence and abuse in marital and non-marital relationships by parents, grandparents, guardians or anyone cohabiting. Domestic violence may be physical, sexual marital rape, economic, emotional, verbal and psychological harassment, abuse and deprivation. The Act obliges the police to inform victims of their rights to protection, including free application for a court protection order and shelter provision. A South African study made a critical observation about their intervention. The law did not affect domestic violence, and domestic violence persists despite the law. Statistics continue to show a high prevalence of domestic violence, with the Ministry of Police reporting that there is one rape every 36 seconds. Women are helpless. Their most significant risk of violence is from someone they know. Victims and families do not report the occurrences for cultural reasons and fear of embarrassment. This act is similar to the Counter Domestic Violence Bill in many ways. Drs Molapo and Mosetse explain that the Basotho beliefs system, customs and language, reinforce patriarchy. Their traditions justify women subordination. Patriarchy facilitates gender roles and gender stereotypes. Patriarchy is visible in a Sesotho customary marriage. Basotho practise male heir succession in the family. Also, a woman is under the guardianship of the father. Upon marriage, she transfers to her husband’s custody. When the husband dies, whoever is her husband’s heir becomes her guardian. Women are represented in court by their fathers, husbands or male guardians. Molesters use intimacy as a strategy for social control or a tactic of intimidation. It regulates relations between men and women and allows men to control women through economic dependence and the threat of violence. The Minister echoed this sentiment in her motivation for her Bill in parliament. Mosetse argued that patriarchy is primarily responsible for relegating women to minors. Their place is at home and bringing up children. Their focus should be on their nurturing abilities rather than on their capabilities. Lesotho inherited an education system that promotes gender inequality, steering women towards home economics, sewing, teaching and commercial studies. Girls are discouraged from studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Gender discrimination is prominent in the education system. The church itself played a significant role in gender discrimination. Unmarried women teachers who fell pregnant lost their posts. Similarly, pregnant girls dropped out of school. A disappointment is that this groundbreaking Bill took the Ministry over 20 years to develop. The time that the Ministry took to create the Bill compromised many lives. However, the Bill is now in parliament. According to Dr Mosetse, rape in Lesotho is a capital offence, second to murder. But sentences of convicts remain discretionary, depending on the presiding magistrate. The Counter Domestic Violence Bill is in itself guilty of the same indiscretion. For example, the Bill says: ‘ A person who, without the consent of another, comes in direct contact with (the) anus, breasts, penis, buttocks, thighs or vagina of another person or says sexual utterances, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M2 500 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or both.’ It romanticises rape while at the same time trivialising the harm inflicted on the victims. It is inundated with inconsistencies and falls short of stating rape as it is. This omission reduces the significance of the damage that these misdemeanours inflict on the victims. The actions in the quotation are without consent. They constitute rape. Trivialising rape gives rise to disproportionate sanctions. They are too lenient. They warrant a penalty that sits in the vicinity of capital conviction. The penalties for rape, like all others, must be consistent with the harm the act inflicts on the victims. In other words, the sentences must be similar to the extract below: ‘If a sexual, domestic offender is infected with HIV and has knowledge or reasonable suspicion that he is infected, he will be sentenced to life imprisonment.’ The Bill takes the deliberate infection with HIV/AIDS seriously. Simultaneously, the same Bill plays down other acts of rape. It is absurd. The sanction that takes some actions seriously neglects to see the harms caused by other sexually transmitted diseases. These psychological scars are often deep-rooted and almost impossible to cure. The sanctions of the offences must match the scars that the crimes leave on the victims. It must not be discretionary. The Bills must include minimum sentences. Such a minimum sentence in a country that still practises capital punishment should be reasonably close to a death sentence. Domestic violence is costly to Lesotho. It burdens the country’s essential services such as healthcare, police and judicial services and fosters victims’ absenteeism from work and school. The education statistics paint a favourable picture for women in Lesotho. Yet when it comes to position authority, the same discriminated against. Lesotho has one of the highest per capita occurrences of rape and gender violence in the world. The South African experience reveals what the intervention of law does to protect women. It fails to alter the phenomenon. Enforcement on its own is not the solution to this problem. Lesotho has to identify proactive, innovative interventions that would significantly reduce the prevalence of rape and incidents of gender violence. Lesotho is aware that the best solution to this scourge is not medical. Prevention is better than cure. Like HIV/AIDS and Covid-19 pandemics and climate change, the key is prevention through education, education and more education. There are several ways that the country can proactively approach the scourge educationally. Domestic violence is part of the social and life skills that children need as part of their development. The school curriculum must incorporate social and life skills. The most common method for education in the nation is through non-formal and informal education. Civil society must engage in structured national awareness campaigns through marches and mass media, print or digital. They must be at a similar scale to HIV/AIDS. These campaigns must include prominent men in Lesotho. This should include the heads of all arms of government, including Their Majesties and the Church. Basotho trusted religious leaders and organisations. This trust places them in strategic positions where they could positively sway Basotho attitudes on domestic violence. Engaging men is the new approach. Men’s active participation as partners must be encouraged. South Africa showed that threatening offenders does not often act as a deterrent. The nation must teach the would-be-offenders from the strength of people’s inherent goodness. Education must emphasise the goodness in people. Education must focus on the values of humanity and peaceful coexistence. Sanctions in the Bill are consequences. They should not be the focus of the Bill. Finally, the scourge of women abuse has reached pandemic proportions. The legal recourse curbs the plague. But this intervention is inadequate. The crimes persist. I urge a positive approach, an educational process. The approach must assert women, girls and the vulnerable as human beings and augment their rights. Combining the legal intervention with educational approaches will take Lesotho a long way towards eradicating this appalling scourge. Indeed, a woman is championing the fight for women emancipation in Lesotho. ‘Aluta continua’! Dr Tholang Maqutu

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Copyright © 2022. The Post Newspaper. All Rights Reserved