Despite the end of the international campaign for 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, a group of youth in Lesotho have responded to live out this call to action 365 days of the year.
Each December, beneficiaries of Help Lesotho’s Child Sponsorship Program pack their bags and head to Help Lesotho headquarters in a town called Hlotse, for a five-day overnight leadership camp. Child Sponsorship supports children in rural communities who have no other source of funds to pay their prohibitive high school fees; it is the only option for continuing school for many children. The majority of sponsored children are girls due to their increased vulnerability to poverty and HIV/AIDS.
The theme of the Leadership Camp 2014 was Be Brave: Stand up, speak out against gender based violence. The camp coincided with the United Nations’ international campaign, 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, which runs from Nov. 25-Dec.10 each year.
For most children, attending camp is the highlight of their year. They spend their days making crafts, playing sports and learning about HIV/AIDS prevention, sexual reproductive health and gender equality. Camp provides the children a welcomed break from the constant challenges of their lives.
Inequality in Leostho
Gender inequity continues to persist in Lesotho and in many cases acts of violence go unreported due to the lack of knowledge of human rights and fear of the ramifications of reporting. Gender based violence is embedded in Basotho culture due to traditional practices and patriarchal values, which fuel male domination over women and children. This often results in mental illness, STIs, early pregnancies, HIV/AIDS infections and suicide. Help Lesotho is celebrating 10 years of empowering women and girls in Lesotho and is committed to educating on gender equity in all of its programming.
Camp staff, made up of mainly young adults from Lesotho, leapt at the chance to educate and empower the vulnerable children, believing that the life skills, HIV/AIDS prevention and sexual reproductive health education provided would change their lives for the better. They led sessions on topics such as, Self Identity and Self Esteem, Resisting Peer Pressure, Sexual Consent, Implications of Teenage Pregnancy and Sex Exploitation, Rape, Gender Violence.
Help Lesotho utilizes the effectiveness of peer education, which allowed the teenage campers to feel comfortable asking the camp staff difficult questions on topics such as sex, dating and sexual violence. These topics are taboo in Basotho culture and are often not addressed by parents or teachers, which results in children growing up to believe cultural myths and misconceptions about sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.
“When it comes to gender based violence, the Basotho don’t talk about it because of our cultural practices. At Help Lesotho, we are saying: do something, act now,” – Sello Matsoso, camp director.
The participants took action to “Be Brave,” by venturing out to local villages to share the lessons learned at camp and encourage the community to fight against gender based violence. “Gender based violence breaks families in so many different ways. We are trying to build capacity for communities to come together and solve their problems,” said Matsoso.
Help Lesotho worked with village chiefs to organize these community gatherings, called lipitso [de-pitso], where the campers gave speeches, performed original songs, dramas and poems to educate on the effects of gender based violence. One group performed a skit on domestic abuse and demonstrated how it affects the children’s mental health and performance in school.
After the presentations, the campers facilitated a community discussion in the form of a question and answer session. At one village, a woman shared about her daughter’s rape by a neighbour. The group provided the woman with support and advice on how to help her daughter heal and encouraged her to press charges against the neighbour. At another village, a young woman asked how she could prevent sexual harassment in her village, and young men asked questions about sexual consent and realized they were committing rape when they demand sex without consent.
The campers acknowledged that their voices will be heard when they speak up and they have the power to make changes and save lives. They committed to stopping gender based violence in their communities – 365 days a year.
Please visit Help Lesotho’s website for more information on our programs.