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Education key to ending gender-based violence

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THIS week we carry the story of a Mafeteng man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for killing his girlfriend. The man told the court he hit his girlfriend with an ashtray after a quarrel over food which he said “was bad”. We are appalled by this heinous crime but not surprised for violence against women in Lesotho is rampant. Almost everyday we read and hear of women who have been killed, beaten and emotionally abused by their husbands and lovers. What is particularly galling is that the perpetrators are, in most cases, never brought to book. A majority of domestic violence cases are swept under the carpet and many women suffer in silence. The few cases that reach the police rarely end up in the courts, unless the victim has died. Even in cases where the violence had led to death our courts seem to be lenient on the perpetrators. For the cold-blooded murder of his girlfriend, the Mafeteng man got away with just 15 years which we believe is a slap on the wrist. In the past some men have gotten away with even lighter sentences for such terrible crimes.

The unpalatable reality is that the sentences are not deterrent enough. Our justice system treats women abusers with kid gloves.

That, in part, probably explains why violence against women remains widespread. It is important to note that the Mafeteng case was finalised a day after the official launch of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. It’s an important campaign that highlights the plight of women. Yet, because of its limited reach and lifespan, this campaign alone will not do much to stop gender-based violence in Lesotho. It will be naive to think that men will stop abusing women because we have a two-week campaign against gender-based violence every year. To end gender-based violence we need a sustained education campaign that starts right in the villages, strong support mechanisms for victims and a vigorous reform of our laws. There is no disputing that gender-based violence in Lesotho is a direct result of the misplaced cultural belief that women are inferior minors. That is why society doesn’t take cases of gender
violence seriously or turns a blind eye when victims cry out for help. An education campaign that starts right in the villages will help change this unfortunate and dangerous cultural perception. Only when that socially ingrained attitude towards women is changed will we take a stand against gender-based violence and support its victims. It is the society that should blow the whistle on men who abuse women.

Once empowered with knowledge women are more likely to report abuse while men are less likely to continue abusing women.

This education campaign must be supported by policies that protect and assist victims. Such policies should make it easier for victims to walk away from abusive relationships. Halfway homes, financial grants, counselling and empowerment projects are crucial in this regard.

We acknowledge the Ministry of Gender is working on a shelter for abused women but we insist more still needs to be done.

While educating the people and strengthening our support systems we must also reform the laws that make it easy for women abuse to go unreported and unpunished.

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