Mamello Morrison – Lesotho

Mamello Morrison – Lesotho

Date: June 30, 2015
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I first met Gender Links in 2001 in Johannesburg at the National Gender Summit. I had been invited to represent the Interim Political Authority (IPA) – an interim political structure agreed to after the 1998 political upheaval. The IPA was to prepare for the 2002 General Elections under a new electoral system devised by the IPA.  Coming back from the Johannesburg Gender Summit, I was inspired to do something about gender issues, but the political atmosphere in the country was too negative for me to proceed. I therefore decided to follow the gender agenda and Gender Links through WLSA and their various activities.

In Botswana, women advocates are called “Baloi,” witches; that really discourages activists, while in Lesotho they are called “matekatse,” a very rude word that immediately stops them in their tracks.  I was told this anecdote by one prominent gender activist during one of my visits to her country on women’s empowerment issues. I don’t know how many women have heard such words or something close to that. Many have been dwarfed into submission for fear of being labelled this way.

I have been involved in NGO activities for as long as I can remember, especially organizations involved in women’s empowerment, and later on placing emphasis on the broader picture of gender. As early as 1993 when I was faced the disappointment of an electorate that had returned a parliament with very few women after the long break from political activity in Lesotho, I initiated the formation of a powerful advocacy movement called Phaphamang Basali (Arise Women). No sooner had it been registered than destructive elements dubbed it a political wing of some political party. That virtually destroyed that noble effort which even included women in the church.

I then threw my weight behind the Lesotho National Council of Women, where we had a protracted interaction with the then Minister of Gender, Hon ‘Mathabiso Lepono in an attempt to form a women’s umbrella body. Once more the efforts were aborted. I literally gave up, and devoted my time to advocacy on HIV/AIDS issues; forming a Support Group and helping other organised women to do the same.

Since my first encounter with Gender Links a long time ago, I was able to stand as a woman and take forward gender issues; I became a focal person in our groups.  My attitude towards advocacy campaigns has changed. I have learnt that you only succeed if and as long as you are willing to be derided and criticised, and called all sorts of names, especially in societies like our support group. To advocate for gender equality pits one against opposition from both men and women.

The resilience of Gender Links and WLSA has helped the change in me, especially one person. Ms Matashane-Mariti really helped me focus and understand better issues around gender. She used to work directly with Gender Links.

The change positively impacts lives of those I interact with. Women in Sea Point are no longer scared to talk about gender, and men are also following suit. In fact, men are contemplating the establishment of a men’s forum – Khotla in Sesotho. This forum will help them to also open debates about gender issues and change the attitudes held by most men.

Our purpose is to intensify our advocacy on gender equality, to nudge the men in the direction of the planned khotla, but more importantly to ensure that more women open their minds and broaden their horizon in the debate on gender as a development imperative.

When you are on the right track in pursuit of your dreams and plans, the number of opposing voices should be ignored as empty and void, but constructive criticism should be a stepping stone on the way forward.


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