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Dignity for the girl child

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MASERU – WHEN Mpeo Kherehloa is on her periods, all she wants to do is stay home. “Whenever I sit down, I wonder whether I have stained my clothes. It is very painful,” she said.

Kherehloa, who is visually impaired, was speaking at the first ever national Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) stakeholders’ consultative forum held by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The forum was part of commemorations for the global menstrual hygiene day, which is celebrated annually on May 28.

This year’s theme was ‘Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030’. The multi-stakeholder forum was aimed at discussing the status, bottlenecks and opportunities to accelerate MHH in Lesotho, as well as to develop strategic partnerships and synergies.

Kherehloa, who is a member of the Lesotho National League of the Visually Impaired Persons (LNLVIP), said menstruation is a very big challenge for people living with visual impairment.
She appreciated the initiative to bring men on board in addressing this issue.

“As I am totally blind, I need their help should I stain myself anywhere they see me. They shouldn’t be afraid to tell me what they see,” she said.

World Vision Youth Representative, Tlotliso Masiu, said limited access to sanitary towels, information, infrastructure and taboos around menstruation are some of the challenges faced by young women and girls, especially in rural areas.

“If we can address this issue, I truly believe we will have taken a major step forward in developing young women and girls,” said Masiu.

He said 20 percent of the population have no access to clean water, while 27 percent still use unimproved sanitation facilities.

“This means 27 percent of our population are not using the proper materials for their menses and thus will set them back from developing not only as humans but as girls. I believe we should begin to implement menstrual hygiene rooms so that girls have a safe space to change without any embarrassment. We must break the cultural norms and taboos,” said Masiu.

He said to help women through their menstrual cycle, men should be cautious of what they say or do.

“Certain phrases that we may use as men that undermine women may make them feel ashamed of their body and the process they are going through in their lives. I believe we must educate ourselves on this issue as we have to take measures to help them feel comfortable – the safer we keep our women and the more comfortable we make them feel, the more comfortable our future will be,” he said.

As the Champion of Menstrual Health and Hygiene in Lesotho, Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso said over the years, efforts to respond to MHH have too often been in silos and not well coordinated.

“It has been my wish to see stakeholders work together to address this issue comprehensively. It is pleasing to note that we seem to be headed in the right direction. Your (stakeholders) participation is a clear testimony of the fact that this subject of national importance is dear to your hearts too,” she said.

She said menstruation should be seen for what it is – a common, everyday fact of life for all women and girls.

“Regrettably, we still have many adolescent girls and young women that use rags for sanitary towels. Some are without water to wash their hands and bodies after menstruation. Even worse, some have no toilets for their privacy.”

The Queen said some schools still don’t have sanitary facilities and girls in those schools miss classes during menstruation. In some communities, some discriminatory and harmful cultural and gender norms, stigma and taboos that prejudice women and girls are rampant.

“This needs to change and we should each commit to be part of that change, including men and boys. A call should be made on boys and men to be part of menstrual health training at our schools and in our communities – they need to be part of the conversation for menstruation to be normalised,” she said.

She appealed to all stakeholders to work together.

“Let us do all we can to secure the dignity of our girls and women. Let us unite around efforts to make menstruation a normal fact of life. Let us focus on the solutions, remove the obstacles and identify the opportunities and strengthen our collective efforts to accelerate access to menstrual health and hygiene in Lesotho.”

“We should strive for change,” she said, adding that menstruation is a biological function and nobody should be discriminated against or disadvantaged because of a biological function.
She said girls in schools don’t understand why condoms are given out for free when sanitary pads are not.

“So why shouldn’t sanitary towels be given out for free in schools?” she asked.

“Let us support them to reach their full potential without hindrance. I look forward to a day when I can go to any school, community and workplace and be met with smiles from girls and women knowing they don’t face any challenges and hindrances,” she said.

Acting Minister of Health, Motlohi Maliehe, said the initiative was an opportunity for them to break the silence, raise awareness and change the negative social norms around MHH as well as create a conducive environment where women and girls are able to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy manner.

“With this, we want to reaffirm our commitment of promoting good menstrual management,” said Maliehe. He said to effectively manage menstruation, women and girls require basic needs such as clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

He also called for affordable and appropriate hygiene products, information and good practices and a supportive environment where women and girls can manage menstruation without embarrassment and stigma.
He said the challenges they face encompasses more than a basic supply or infrastructure.

In many parts of the world, Lesotho included, Maliehe said experience of menstruation continues to be constrained by cultural taboos and social norms, lack of information on menstruation and lack of appropriate menstrual products leads to unhygienic and unhealthy practices whereby some end up using old clothes, dirty rags or even fail to manage their menses.

This is negatively impacting their education, health, safety and human development. He said the theme adopted at the forum aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 3 (ensure health and wellbeing of our people), SDG 4 (ensure inclusive and equitable education) and SDG 6 (ensure access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all).

He said strides have been made to address the concern by setting up an enabling environment for the empowerment of women and girls such as national plans, policies and laws.

“In 2019, Parliament voted to eliminate value added tax (VAT) charged to sanitary towels,” he said, noting however that despite the achievements “there is still a long way to go.”
World Vision Lesotho National Director, James Chifweli, said the responsibility of NGOs is to complement the government’s work.

“The main mandate to look after the citizens lies with the government but we know that it is a great responsibility that requires collaboration, hence we are among the key stakeholders to complement what it is doing at the national level.”

Deputy Minister of Water Mankoe Maime said his Ministry is implementing many water supply projects and a major one is the Lesotho Lowlands Water Supply Scheme.

“This will increase and sustain access to water to 1.5 million people which is about 75 percent of Basotho country wide.”

He said the ministry provides sanitation facilities for institutions; schools, clinics and vulnerable households.

“We are trying hard to reach areas with water and sanitation services so we are leaving no one behind,” said Maime.

Acting Minister of Social Development, Keketso Sello, said the partnership will make it easier for the ministry to manage menstruation better.

“We are quite happy with our development partners who are facilitating most of the needs of the community.

“However, it shouldn’t be our responsibility alone to understand the vulnerability of girls pertaining to this issue but the ownership of the government at large — know the importance of injecting more so that we don’t have to cut important services.”

He added: “It is our role to ensure that the government understands that it is their direct responsibility to ensure that girls don’t experience what they are experiencing because if we don’t have much, they won’t get as much as they need which is not what we want.”

“We are doing everything in our capacity to ensure that by 2030, we call this issue history.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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BNP wins rescission order against SG

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MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) this week successfully applied for a rescission of a court order that would have seen the party’s secretary general, Thato Lethobane, being awarded M126 000. Lethobane’s case will now be heard again at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) on Monday.

The party raised technical legal reasons that prompted the cancellation of the award that ordered the party to pay Lethobane for the time he did not receive his salary since his suspension.

Lethobane was suspended in October last year after he was accused of embezzling party funds and he asked the DDPR to order the party to pay him from October last year to April this year.

The BNP deputy secretary, Moeketsi Hanyane, who is holding forte at the party’s administration, told thepost last night that “Lethobane’s glow was short-lived and was wrong in the first place”.

“The DDPR award against us will not see the light of day because Lethobane got suspended for two years after we discovered that he stole the party’s funds,” Hanyane said.

“A thief is a thief and we cannot allow him to claim monies he is unworthy of,” he said.

“We have opened a case against him at the police and he cannot come around and say we owe him.”

Hanyane said Lethobane was suspended for two years so that after that period, if he still loved wanted to be part of the party, he could come and participate in its affairs again.

“The suspension was not meant to put him aside for a while to allow investigations but it is a punishment for what we found on him,” he said.

Hanyane said Lethobane is not owed anything for that period because he is officially out of office as a result of the punishment he got from the party not because he was suspended pending investigations.

He said the BNP did not defend itself at the DDPR and the arbitrator ruled in favour of Lethobane in default.

“We did not go to the DDPR on technical issues and we have since applied for and acquired a rescission of the award,” he said.

Lethobane declined to get into the details of his case with the BNP but only confirmed that he had won an award at the DDPR.

“After I realised how much they owed me I decided to go to labour and successfully claimed my payment,” he said.

“The case judgment was done in my favor, even though I will not discuss that issue much.”

The party pays its secretary general M18 000 per month.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Killer police investigated

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MASERU – PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has set up a special team to investigate police officers who killed a student during a protest at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) last week. Majoro’s decision comes as pressure mounts on the government and the police to identify the officers who pulled the trigger and bring them to justice.

The police killed Kopano Makutoane and seriously injured six more students on Thursday last week during a strike over their stipends that were not paid in full. Makutoane was shot with multiple live bullets in the face.

Police Minister Lepota Sekola, Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and Development Planning Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, confirmed that a team has been set up but were reluctant to give further details. thepost has been told that the police have zeroed in on 12 police officers who were part of the team that responded to the protest.

The police management is said to be close to suspending some of the officers and opening a murder case against them. Their names cannot, however, be revealed because they have not been officially identified and charged.

Majoro visited the Makutoane family last week and promised justice for their slain son. The strike was triggered by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)’s delay to pay students their monthly stipends.

Those who received the allowances only got M450 instead of their usual monthly stipend of M1 100. Several eyewitnesses and victims told thepost that the police conducted raids targeting NUL students even after the protesters had dispersed. Sello Khechane, a second-year student, said the police fired live ammunition at the protesters.

“We started fleeing the place and did not even realise that one of us was shot near the gate,” Khechane said.

One of the injured students said about 20 police officers knocked at her rented room when she was sleeping, dragged her out and beat her with sticks and truncheons.

“I was still wearing my gown and was not even part of the protest,” she said.

Another girl who had visited her brother was caught in the crossfire as police went on the rampage.

“I was watching a movie when I saw a mob of police approaching the door and asking all of us in the house to come out,” she said.

She said the police used sticks and kicked her.

“I tried to convince them that I am not a student there, but they refused to listen,” she said.

The Social Development Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, said he immediately intervened when he was informed of the disagreement between the Students’ Representative Council and the NMDS management over the stipends.

“The school told us that there was a problem as students walked out of examination rooms.”

He also said the NMDS told him that there is a law that says students should not get full amounts when their school days are cut short during a month.

“We made a decision that students should get full amounts,” he said.

He said the students were notified that they would get full amounts but continued with the strike.

“I am sorry that one student lost his life.” The incident has sparked an outcry from different political parties.

The Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader and former Vice-Chancellor of the NUL, Professor Nqosa Mahao, condemned the killing saying it was the third time police have used force during protests and ended up taking lives.

“We are very saddened and embarrassed by this act,” Professor Mahao said.

He said they condemn the police actions that led to the death of the student, saying the behaviour by police shows that Basotho’s lives are not safe. He recalled that in 2009 the police shot a student during protests.

“They shot Tumelo Mohlomi in 2017, she was also shot by the police,” Professor Mahao said, adding that the police officers involved in the incident were not charged.

He blamed the conflicts on the NMDS management “that does not do its job correctly”. The Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) leader, Sam Matekane, met NUL students near the campus on Tuesday.

“We condemn that behaviour, it was uncalled for, it was not necessary,” Matekane said.

He said the police’s job is to protect and save people, not to kill people as they did or do.

“When promised sponsorship, we are expecting you to get them as promised,” he said.

“It does not make sense that someone can carry a gun and shoot an unarmed student.”

He also pledged to provide the students with transport to Quthing where Makutoane will be laid to rest.

“We will make sure that those who were affected get the necessary counselling and also help them,” he said.

The NUL management also condemned the killing and injuring of other students. In a statement, the university said it was aggrieved by “the plan by the NMDS to prorate the student’s allowance for June 2022”. The university pleaded with the students to remain calm, adding that it has started visiting all the affected families.

Staff Reporter

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Mafeteng magistrates’ court records burnt

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MASERU – A fire gutted the records section of the Mafeteng Magistrate’s Court last week. The police suspect it was an act of arson. Thousands of crucial case records were destroyed.

This could affect hundreds of cases that were pending in the court. Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed the incident, saying investigations have started but no arrests have been made.

“But our preliminary investigations show that the court was intentionally set on fire,” S/Supt Mopeli said.

“Important court documents have been set alight together with some chairs and a table.”

A source close to the case told thepost that a container of petrol was found outside a broken window. The guard was not at work when the incident happened.

In 2010 computers containing information on cars registered in Maseru and Leribe were burnt in a fire that police suspected was deliberately started to destroy records and cover up corruption.

The Integrated Financial Management System computers, National Transport Information System server, computers, and a printer were destroyed.

The incident happened as the police were investigating a syndicate that was illegally registering stolen cars.

In 2019 a fire at the Ministry of Health’s head office destroyed computers and records.

Although ministry officials said the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault, suspicions of foul play lingered on.

Majara Molupe

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