Written By: Sarah Otto, Help Lesotho Intern 2016
The International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign theme for 2016, #PledgeForParity, means that, “Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step in achieving gender parity more quickly.” It is important to note that the IWD campaign highlights both men and women when they speak of taking the pledge, because gender equity will take the investment of both genders for it to become a reality.
As an intern with the Canadian organization , Help Lesotho, in Lesotho, one of the first projects I experienced was the ‘GIRL4ce Movement (ie. Girl-force). The GIRL4ce Movement is doing its part in the fight for gender equity by engaging girls, boys, women and men on the issues of child, early and forced marriages (CEFM), girls’ rights, and sexual and gender-based violence. The GIRL4ce Movement empowers communities to address these issues by bringing awareness to the laws that affect CEFM so that community members can become advocates for themselves, and for girls and women.
In Lesotho, CEFM is still a common practice and 86% of women report they have experienced gender-based violence, while less than 3% of women have reported the violence to the police or a healthcare provider. These issues disproportionately affect girls and women, but it is going to take both girls and boys to address and overcome these issues. Although the GIRL4ce Movement is an advocacy movement primarily led by girls aged 14-24, it engages boys, both inside and outside the Movement in the fight for gender equity. Boys make up 10% of the GIRL4ce Movement’s population.
I caught up with two male GIRL4ce members, Rethabile Mokoena, 17, and Kente Monoana, 18, while they were on their way to a GIRL4ce Movement event. I asked them if they received any pushback from their peers for being boys in a movement led by girls and called ‘GIRL4ce”. They said that they have received some negative comments from boys telling them that they are no longer boys because of their participation in the GIRL4ce Movement.
Kente said that although these comments can get tiresome at times, they do not deter him because now he is aware of the laws that protect girls and women. “I know what I am doing is right,” he says.
When Rethabile was on Radio Lesotho speaking about sexual and gender-based violence on behalf of the GIRL4ce Movement, he admitted that he used to be one of the boys that would whistle at a girl when she wore revealing clothes. When he joined the Movement and learned the laws and values of women’s rights, he discovered that what he was doing was sexual harassment. I asked him what makes him so committed to girls’ and women’s rights, and he replied “When I was made to understand how girls feel when we treat them that way, I realized it was not good.”
He went on to say that this realization compels him to fight for girls’ and women’s rights.
Rethabile and Kente are two examples of the progress that can be made for gender equity when boys are engaged. To bring about global gender equity, societies need to change, but societies cannot change when half of the population is ignored in the pursuit of that change.
“Kente (left) and Rethabile (right) proudly attend a GIRL4ce Movement event at Help Lesotho’s Leadership Centre in Hlotse, Lesotho.”