Lesotho : Living in fear in my own space

Lesotho : Living in fear in my own space

Date: May 17, 2018
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By Ntolo Lekau

Maseru, 17 May : I was shuttered, hopeless and lonely as I had always thought I was the only one who experienced and still experiencing so much pain in my life. I lost my self-esteem, gave up on life as I was not seeing anything working until the day I was invited to Gender Links (GL) entrepreneurship and life skills workshop. I met a lot of women who experienced far more than what I still go through every day. It saddens me to see that there is still so much to be done in order to stop Gender Based Violence (GBV).

I experienced GBV more from my partners as most  would only get involved with me with the intensions that they are going to “correct” me, and by the time I confirm my sexuality and explain that  I am attracted to both men and women it became problem. I would be beaten up and told that I had mislead people and that is the punishment IO deserve. They would ask with so much anger and hatred with them, but that is who iam, what should I do in order to make both women and men to accept me, am I asking to much to live freely and happy, asks Rethabile.

Rethabile is a young bisexual woman who recently gave birth to an adorable baby boy. She has been through so much in life. She lives a life that she calls a “lie” because she cannot disclose who she really is to her family and close friends. Born in rural community in Lesotho makes it worse as she cannot share how she feels with her parents and community member. She is attracted to both women and men and she does not think she can spend the rest of life with a man. She often wonders but how she will explain that to her family, especially her mother and father. Will they not say she has been bewitched? She feels so much pain as she cannot express herself the way she would want to. As much as she wears her big trousers, shirts and men takkies to disguise her parents still believes that she is their young woman who they would one day want to see getting married, but that is not what she wants and how does she tell them without being rejected?

Her story shows that GBV is real in our families and communities; it is even worse when you are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community member. Ending GBV and discrimination against LGBTIQA persons is not something that can be done by few a people. It needs collective action from everyone in the community. Research shows that Intimate Partner Violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women.

Growing up in the rural has brought her so much strain because she is expected to behave in a certain way, but how does she make them aware that she is not who they think she is and at the same time trying to make them understand that she is attracted to both women and men? People close to her concluded  that she is a lesbian looking at the way she dresses and nobody bothered to find out from her what is exactly her sexually orientation. Those assumptions contributed a lot to her abuse because they never understood who she really is.

She met with different people in her life and tried to make them understand her situation, but people judged her and some even distanced themselves from her and that makes even her life more difficult as she wonders how her parents will take the news. She wishes for a way that can be easy for her to explain these issues to them in a way that they will understand and accept her the way she is.She once tried to disclose her sexuality to her cousins and it did not go well as they called her names and told her straight that they will never accept her, but she question lies to where should she run as even the government of Lesotho doesn’t say anything about those issues?

LGBTIQ persons in Lesotho face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBTI residents because there is no specific protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law prohibits consensual sexual relations between men, but authorities did not enforce it. The law is silent on consensual sex between women.LGBTI persons face societal discrimination and official insensitivity to this discrimination. And it makes difficult to report incidents of violence due to fear of stigma. LGBTI rights groups complain of discrimination in access to health care and participation in religious activities and all these make it even more difficult for Phangoa to disclose her sexuality to her parents

Her Concern is how she is going to make her parents understand if there are not laws or even clear conversations about those issues and at the same time law only prohibits discrimination attributable to sex; it does not openly forbid discrimination against LGBTI. Same-sex sexual relationships are taboo in society and not openly discussed, her sisters cannot even discuss their relationships with their parents and let alone her had to share that she is attracted to both women and men. For her it is like she living two lives, the ones that her parents wants her to be and when she gets chance she quickly becomes who she really wants but without giving them any suspicions.

Although she has a child and it was purely her decision and her parents were happy as the marriage thought came again that one day she will get married and they will have an amazing son-in-law, but that is not what she needs, she only enjoys more to be romantically involved with women. If she struggles to disclose to her parents how is she going to explain to her baby,wont he even think he is the product of rape looking at how her mother would be? Those thoughts make her very uneasy because she wants her child to be proud of her? She needs her child to grow up in a very accommodative environment and where people are free to express who they are without any fear.

However, she believes that as much as there is so much to be done in order for her and other LGBTI persons who might be in a similar situations, she will keep pushing and engage with other people who can assist her so that at the end they will live freely in their communities and be able to talk about LGBTI issues freely and be open about their relationships. The GL entrepreneurship trainings she has been attending is helping her a lot  as she is learning more about life skills, communication and business. As part of the project she was given a smart phone that has GBV application that she will be able to use it to prevent and report GBV cases .She hopes and prays for GBV free environment and believes the phone is going to help her a lot.

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia it is important to stand with LGBTI people and work together to ensure their rights are realised and live violent free lives.

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