Too cold for comfort

Too cold for comfort

AUGUST is supposed to be a very important month to women. This is because this month has been earmarked as the international month for African women.

As such, women from all walks of life should feel warmth and comfort during this month and beyond.

Unfortunately, Lesotho as a country has become too cold for comfort for women and girls.

Class privilege and oppression have reared their ugly heads in the present day Lesotho.

This situation has left women and girls vulnerable and at the mercy of the highly patriarchal society they live in.

Class privilege is a concept that revolves around our access to resources and a particular standing in society. For example, a Member of Parliament and an ordinary citizen get to be treated differently by service providers.

As for oppression, the late Iris Marion Young, the American political scientist and feminist, came up with a rather comprehensive definition.

She defined oppression as a term that, “designates the disadvantage and injustice some people suffer not because a tyrannical power coerces them, but because of the everyday practice of a well-intentioned liberal society”.

Young further developed what she termed the five faces of oppression which are: exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence.

This model was first published in 1990. Yet in the current Lesotho, we still find the existence of this horrid nature of oppression.

A few weeks ago social media was abuzz with news that Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Machesetsa Mofomobe was being accused of subjecting a woman to inappropriate sexual conduct.

The exact nature of his alleged actions were not clear and it will be wrong to speculate.

What matters here is that there was an allegation.
We can speculate that class privilege associated with cultural imperialism protected Machesetsa and degraded the integrity and social standing of his alleged victim. The alleged sexual misconduct became part of the political mudslinging in the Basotho National Party.

The result is that the real issue of sexual abuse and oppression of women in the male dominated political landscape was relegated to a joke and fodder for political insults.

Just last week, both print and social media were awash with news that former form law minister, Mootsi Lehata, had his rape charge withdrawn after he cut a deal with his alleged victim.

It is alleged that at the time of the rape, the girl was seventeen and her family tried to sweep the incident under the carpet.

This act by the family of the alleged victim contravened the Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2011 (CPWA) which states that “A parent or guardian has a responsibility, whether imposed by law or otherwise, towards the child, including responsibility to-protect the child from neglect, discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation, exposure to physical and moral hazards and oppression.

This means, in essence, the family became accomplices in the crime. Furthermore, the law makes clear directives on the role of the state in the protection and welfare of the children in Lesotho.

In section 22(m) the Act states that, “the state has a duty to formulate policies which will ensure- protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse, including commercial sex and involvement in pornography”. In the case of Lehata and his alleged victim, the state has dismally failed the victim.

My contention is that by building of the house and paying a monthly maintenance Lehata is showing that he is above the law. He is saying he cannot be subjected to the same laws that have sent people to prison.
In accepting this deal, the prosecution and the courts are admitting that we are not equal before the law.  Those with money can pay their way out of trouble.

They can manipulate the system.
I am shocked because we already know that most rape cases are not reported because victims are afraid of retribution.

Some prefer to suffer silently because they are afraid of being judged.
Others fail to report their cases because they don’t believe that justice will be done.

Yet in this case the courts and the prosecution are allowing a reported case that is already before a magistrate to be withdrawn because the suspect has promised to pay off the victim.

The silence of the organisations dealing with gender issues silence is too loud.  The status and class privilege of the suspect has been used to violate the victim’s rights.

In a way, it illustrates how we treat our women in this country, especially the vulnerable ones.

I also suspect that the lack of harmonisation of laws in Lesotho, particularly in relation to the appropriate age of a “child”, is partly to blame for the unjust way cases are handled.

It is therefore important that we review some of the legislation such as the ‘Laws of Lerotholi’ to secure a better place in society for women and girls.
Politicians should use the same energy they use when campaigning for elections in the fight against the abuse of women. It is time for the women’s caucus to be vocal on the rights of women and girls.

There is also need for the women’s caucus and all the stakeholders involved in the fight for the rights of women to be at the forefront in the battle against human trafficking, rape, child marriages and abuse. It is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that Lesotho is not too cold for our women and girls.

By :Kelello Rakolobe

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