According to a study by UNFPA, one in three women in Lesotho has suffered physical or sexual violence similar to the global prevalence rate.
This was confirmed also by United Nation Resident Coordinator Salvator Niyonzima in his 16 Days of Activism speech last week when he said, worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.
He indicated that violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world.
He also pointed that violence knows no social, economic or national boundaries. This scourge has been even further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2018-2030 Gender and Development promises to tackle systematic issues that affect women and girls in Lesotho.
In this incisive interview with theReporter’s Kefiloe Kajane, the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) dissects the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) concept and the common myths around it.
Just a reminder for the sake of the uninitiated. What is FIDA and what does it do?
The Lesotho Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) is a non-governmental organisation. It is the leading organization in Lesotho providing advice and information on women and children’s rights so that they can achieve social justice.
Our current work especially focuses on property or land claims, domestic abuse, women’s empowerment and children’s rights. But of late, our target group also includes men. We work through a three-way string of advocacy. We help many with any services that they may need whether legally or through empowering.
We specialise mostly on legal advice and support, mediation and litigation training on human rights and legislation, educational materials for sensitization. We do advocacy of laws that we find oppressive to women and children.
We also empower women ad encourage them to take part in leadership positions. We have had success story of places where they had never had women councilors nut now do through our empowerment.
We are currently in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (GBV). Does FIDA have a role to play in this activism? If so what is it and how does it do it?
As part of our work, we implement different programmes some of which are based primarily on issues of GBV, so during this period we hold a series of campaigns to try and raise awareness on issues related to GBV. We also work to strengthen our reach in terms of accommodating victims of GBV whether through counselling or through legal presentation or advice through our legal aid clinic.
We are also running two programmes now with the support of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) basically focusing on anti-GBV, and another one where we have partnered with other NGOs to try to curb GBV and harassment on the work place, especially at the textile factories.
Reports suggested a surge in GBV during the Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year. What in your opinion was the reason for this?
We would say it is because people were confined to small spaces within the household. That would be an act of violence spreader across the longer period of time. Movement ended up being restricted as people are confined in one space basically having conflicts that go on over a long period of time between partners.
Secondly, we had a problem in terms of shortage in proper communication or reporting of the cases. This somehow led to some perpetrators feeling like victims
What factors, cultural, socio-economic or legal, would you say contribute to the perpetration of GBV?
The issue of dependency. You find that due to the rife unemployment, in a house there is only one person working and in most cases it’s a male who the other party and the children depend on. You find that they turn to dictate and control what happens in the household and if there is any form of resistance, that can lead to any form of abuse whether physically or emotionally.
We think it is also the issue of patriarchy. This has also been proven by research, that women from single orphaned families or double orphaned families tend to get in a marriage where the family of her partner tend to control her because she does not have any support from her family. That propels to abuse as the male and his family have more domination when it comes to decision making, which can also lead to children’s rights being violated especially in the remote areas.
We also have issues of historical or generational influence. This happens when the perpetrator grew up or is from a family that had violence and he thinks violence is the only way to resolve differences; therefore, it keeps continuing from one generation to the other.
Then there is the social environment or cultural set up that a person leaves in. There are places where by certain things are only allowable when done by men as a matter of cultural practice, disregarding how much the oppress women rights. This happens in the context of community as well as within families
There is this concept that is usually bandied about – “access to justice for gender-based violence victims”. What exactly is it and how does it work? Also how successful is it?
The issue that comes to play most of the times is balancing the rights of the victim and those of those of the perpetrator. Even the person who is a suspect, is innocent until proven guilty, so the problem faced is understanding that before the perpetrator is found guilty he still has rights.
We see mostly from the public that people have a hard time when it comes to the judicial process and the police handling the cases, where the process takes too long and looks like it is a denial of justice.
Most of the time we get cases through our legal aid clinic, where people seek help saying they have been abused by a close family. Most them will even say they are already from the police. So our work is to support these people, whether by seeking restriction orders from courts, or intervening to make sure that they get justice one way or the other.
It is called GBV, yet society at all times appears to project it as violence against women. Why is that? And how can we dispel the perception that women are the only victims of this kind of violence?
We think historically and through research, it has been rediscovered that it ends up being violence against women because mostly the perpetrators are men and the victims are women.
Also, because of the journeys that women go through because of men. That is why it ends up being labelled as abuse against women. We know and acknowledge that men can also be victims of GBV, that is why I mentioned that we also have a programme for men of late. But we know that in many cases people who come out or speak up on violence are women and as such people end up equating GBV to violence against women.
For the sake of further opening people’s eyes, who else apart from women are victims of GBV? How are they affected and to what extent?
We have men who are also subject to GBV and are even scared to report. We have had many times in our sensitization meetings or trainings where men do come out and say they have been abused, but are scared of being judged but the society.
Even the institutions that are there to help them are still led by people who were still socially orientated to say a man cannot be hurt by a woman.
Men do come out and say they tried to report to the police but they were ridiculed.
It is always argued that gender-based violence impairs or nullifies women’s enjoyment of their human rights? How does this happen? Would you say the same for the other victims of GBV?
Women are at the centre of GBV as mentioned before and that’s not to say other people are not but as we say they are they are the major victims. You look at the way in which our legal frame work is designed, starting from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They state that, as people, we should enjoy our rights and that everybody should enjoy them equally. In reality though that is not the case; that is why there is a need to improve our laws.
That is why even now, there is an important conversation that there should be a Domestic Violence Act, even though there is a draft. The reason is that we want to create a space where both men and women can enjoy their rights fully without fear of one being compromised or oppressed by the other.
Basically, because of our norms, women’s rights have been violated refers to rights that can be enjoyed by both genders. The same conversation has also been going on about groups like disabled people and children.
Legally, would you say penalties meted out to people who are guilty of GBV are too lenient, hence the high occurrence of GBV?
We do not want to blame the issue of penalties as the major contributor because there have been studies even in correctional facilities where many people are there because of GBV.
Some of them are return convicts and one would not say it is a deterrent because you find such people in correctional facilities. There are many who will tell you that they are in there for their survival because outside they are fear being shunned by their community, so they repeat the same act just to go back inside. So we think it is not an issue of penalties being lenient or severe.
The journey of the victim is long, painful and frustrating. We do not think it should be equated to the penalty. We should concentrate more on making sure that the victim gets help and support.
We think penalties should make the victim can feel safer and get time to heal before they can ever see the perpetrator again.
There is a school of thought that victims of GBV themselves do contribute to the rise in the phenomenon in one way or the other. Do you agree? Why?
We would say no, because we know many people are violated without any reason and to be honest there will never be any reason enough that can justify a person being violated.
So it is totally untrue that they are propellers of whatever they end up being subjected to. There is no amount of trigger that can amount to the justification of a person being violated.
Let’s take inter-generational transactional sexual relationships, for example. Some people describe them as exploitation. At what stage are they classified as GBV?
We are dealing with a lot of phenomena in this issue. We have to acknowledge that people in any relationship have differing states of thinking.
While we acknowledge that there could be instances where a person says they did not know that they were violating the other one, more often the issues of GBV are very direct, whether it is physically or emotionally, there is always that feeling that a person has that they are doing something wrong.
For example, being in a relationship with an underage person is wrong and we cannot say people who are involved do not know that it is wrong because they always want to exercise that power dynamic.