A ‘school’ for husbands

A ‘school’ for husbands

MOKHOTLONG – IN May last year the then Justice Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse told a gathering that 90 percent of men in prison were rape convicts.
Phamotse, now Gender Minister, was speaking at the Validation of the Beijing +25 Lesotho Report.
She said in almost every ministry she had worked she had come face-to-face with cases of women abuse and gender inequality.
The report sought to assess Lesotho’s progress on achieving gender equality and women empowerment.
Making for sobering reading, the report showed that despite strong efforts Lesotho was still struggling to end gender based violence and inequality.

It confirmed the findings of another United Nations report that said 86 percent of women in Lesotho have been victims of gender based violence.
That trend doesn’t appear to have changed, as stories of violence and abuse against women continue to make headlines.
It is those shocking statistics that pushed Gender Links, a woman rights advocacy group, to act.
Three months after Phamotse’s speech Gender Links started what it called the School of Husbands, a programme that seeks to educate men about gender based violence and women’s rights.

“This programme became an agent of change in our social behaviour because prior to this we were not very alert on our normalised behaviour that was toxic in advancing our communities,” says ’Manteboheleng Mabetha, Gender Links’ country manager.
“Each one teaches another,” this is the school’s motto.

Mabetha says they want to train men who would lead the change in the community.
Despite its rather odd name the school is an innovative strategy to engage men in conversations about maternal health, family planning and sexual reproductive health rights. It’s not a formal institution but a platform for married men to discuss issues of health, finance and agriculture.
Mabetha believes the husbands’ school could be a “game-changer in gender equality and health”.

Mabetha says there are bigger plans to have the Husbands’ Schools in every district and possibly every village to promote behaviour change among men.
She says the school will empower men to become agents of change in issues affecting women.
“Public gatherings have failed in creating awareness on issues of GBV and many other issues.”
“It takes one person with a testimony to tell one or two other people about such issues as an awareness effort.”
“This is why we teach a few men to go (and) teach other men in their villages.”
Mabetha says the project is still at a pilot stage.

“We have not met people who can attest to this change but we will do monitoring and evaluation as soon as we are done with the batch.”
So far 18 men in Mokhotlong’s ’Malefiloane area are currently enrolled in the programme.
Mabetha says the idea is to train men who can then educate their peers in the villages.
Among the trainees are cultural leaders, church leaders and community members.

Molupe Ntsing, one of the trainees, says the school has changed the way he views women.
“For instance, we did not know that abuse can be emotional and financial,” Ntsing says.
“We didn’t know that if you hold a woman inappropriately that becomes a sexual offence and one can face jail time,” another trainee, Katiso Malapane, says.
Semakale Koti says he has come to accept that Basotho culture and norms were oppressive to women.
“We are the ones that developed these cultural norms and we do agree that some of the principles we had in place abused women and did not treat them as independent beings,” Koti says.

“Only when women are empowered and included in family and community decision making processes will we see progress,” Koti says.
Limpho Mosola says he never understood why people were saying child marriage was a problem because he had seen it practised for years.
“Now I know why it is wrong to speak for child marriage or any marriage where one has not consented to,” Mosola says.
“Our children die while giving birth because they are too young to give birth. They become sexually active at a young age when their minds and body are not ready for it,” he says.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says 17 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthday and one percent married before they are 15.
Mosola says he now knows that child marriage does not only contribute to maternal mortality but also affects their future prospects.
“We married off our children because all we wanted was cows,” he admits.
Mosola says they have also learned the importance of contraceptives as a right and as a family planning tool.

“I was against contraceptives because I believed they gave women the power to fornicate and sleep around without the husband knowing,” he says, adding: “But today my understanding on why women need to use contraceptives has changed.”
“The economy has changed, the way of life has changed and we cannot continue to drive ourselves and our children into poverty when we have a choice to stop having more children.”

“We had to learn new ways of farming and how to protect our livestock from drought and diseases,” he says.
Tlhoriso Ramolete, another participant, says so far he has learned that contracting HIV is no longer a death sentence nor is it impossible to live a HIV-free life if your partner is found to be HIV positive.

“The use of PREP can protect one partner from being infected with HIV if the other partner is HIV positive,” Ramolete says he learnt this for the first time.
“This was an amazing revelation for us because it then means that there is no reason why people continue to discriminate against HIV positive people,” he says.
“You can marry such a person and have HIV-free children.”
The Husbands’ School is supported by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA).

Rose Moremoholo

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