THE Women’s Parliamentary Caucus is courting their male counterparts to actively get involved in the fight against gender inequality in the National Assembly and in other areas in the country.
The chairperson of the Women Parliamentary Caucus, ‘Matšepo Ramakoae, said the decision to include men in their fight against gender inequality in Lesotho was influenced by the HeForShe campaign that was launched in Lesotho last December.
The HeForShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality, initiated by United Nations organisation. Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging all genders to partake as agents of change and take action against negative stereotypes and behaviours. Grounded in the idea that gender inequality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically—the campaign seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as a struggle for women by women.
Since the launch of the campaign in Lesotho, the national assembly has committed itself to enacting laws that prevent and protect women and men from gender-based violence. It has also committed to enacting laws to create a conducive environment for women and girls to freely participate in economic activities.
Ms Ramakoae said while the caucus’ mandate was to empower women with proper skills to interrogate laws enacted in parliament from a gender perspective, it was also important to secure the buy-in and active cooperation of their male counterparts in their activities.
“The women’s caucus has a mandate to female parliamentarians so they make meaningful contributions in politics,” Ms Ramakoae said.
“Female parliamentarians shouldn’t be bystanders but they must be active players in politics.
“We are also empowering them with skills to interrogate laws enacted in parliament. We have had several workshops with the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) as well as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the primary reason for those workshops was to empower women with skills to interrogate and make meaningful contributions before laws are passed in parliament.”
She said that the HeForShe campaign aimed at ensuring that parliament came up with gender sensitive laws and all parliamentarians must understand that gender issues are not issues for women alone.
“Gender issues are very encompassing and it has since been established that going to parliament or to communities to campaign against child marriages and gender-based violence without the active participation of our male counterparts does not work.
“You cannot leave men behind and expect them to later vote with us when we push for gender sensitive laws that they barely understand. We need them to be part of the campaigns and fully understand where we are coming from so that they can assist us in the fight against gender inequality.
“The HeForShe campaign simply says, ‘walk the walk with them (males), take them along with you and help them understand where we are coming from so they can support and champion our gender equality course’. We also want them to fully understand that gender-based violence affects their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters,” Ms Ramakoae said.
She said it was even more imperative to involve their male counterparts because they made up the bulk of the legislators and therefore gender-based issues could not be tackled without their cooperation.
Currently, only 22 percent of the legislators are women.
She said courting their male counterparts had resulted in positive developments as the latter have also begun raising social issues like gender-based violence at public gatherings in their respective constituencies.
“We have had a positive response from men and they are beginning to see these (gender) issues through the eyes of women. This understanding further needs to translate into gender sensitive budgeting.
“The Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, has pledged to support us,” she said.
On his part, Mr Motanyane said time had come for women and men to sit and discuss gender issues without making anyone feel they were being attacked.
He said that the HeForShe campaign aimed to correct mistakes of the past created by introducing the gender equality campaign.
“We started on a wrong footing and we made a huge mistake by leaving men behind when we introduced the gender agenda. Some people thought that the gender issues affect women only whereas they affect women and men.
“This created unnecessary tension between men and women. Women stood on one side saying, ‘men are doing this and that to us’ while men had their own complaints about women. Instead of bringing harmony between the two groups, we created unhealthy tension between them. We never treated the gender issue as a societal issue that needed to be dealt with by both groups because both are active players either way or the other,” Mr Motanyane said.