Action to Put an End to Violence Planned

Date: January 1, 1970
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Despite numerous national and international legal provisions, women in Lesotho and indeed across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) continue to experience violence in the streets, in their homes, and even in the workplace. Awareness may be increasing amongst the public, service providers, and governments, but people living in abusive situations need real protection, including not only laws, but also resources to back them up.

Moving from campaigns and paper laws to concrete action will mean a real difference in the lives of victims of gender-based violence. In a positive step forward, the Lesotho Ministry of Gender, Sports and Recreation, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) held a three-day workshop to create concrete plans to work toward year-round safety and security for all women.
Growing out of the “16 Days of Activism,” held annually 25 November to 10 December to draw attention to gender violence, the move towards a 365 Days initiative recognises that strategies are needed to protect everyone, especially women, throughout the year, and keep violence on the agenda. The Lesotho workshop is part of a region-wide campaign spearheaded by South African-based Gender Links.
Gender-based violence continued to be a reality in Lesotho constitutes one of the most widespread human rights abuses and public health problems in the world today, with devastating long-term consequences for survivors’ physical and mental health. Gender violence is not only a human rights issue, but also affects the social and economic health of families, communities, and countries.  It ranges from acts of violence in the form of physical, psychological, or sexual violence against a person specifically because of his or her gender.
Presenting at the meeting, Lesotho Director of Gender Matau Futho-Letsatsi noted that, “gender violence does not only violate basic human rights but also poses serious challenges to public health and social development and therefore governments are legally obliged to address the problem through a range of international regional and local instruments that include legislation.” 
Futho-Letsatsi added that,  “We need to strengthen our collaboration to end gender- based violence within the 365 days because the violence is costly; this includes the cost of treating the health effects of violence and ill health, preventing spouses, especially women from working and making contributions to the family wellbeing as well as the cost of the missed education.”
In Lesotho, there are already a number of relevant pieces of legislation in place, including the Gender and Development Policy, the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, and Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act of 2006. Yet, despite a progressive laws, incidents of gender and child directed violence remain unacceptably high.
There are also very few counselling services available to survivors of gender violence. To name a few, Tšepong Counselling Centre, Sesioane Counselling Services and Lesotho child counselling unit. Information is very limited on available services for survivors and support services are still far apart from each other.
The annual “16 Days of Activism” Campaign has gained momentum in countries across Southern Africa, including Lesotho, and has served to raise awareness amongst ordinary citizens and governments about the high levels of gender violence in the region. However, its effectiveness has not been above criticism, particularly from people noting that increased attention for 16 Days a year is not enough.
The aim of the regional initiative is to provide nationally relevant, comprehensive, and coherent frameworks for putting an end to gender-based violence. The Lesotho workshop also aimed to equip participants with knowledge on how to coordinate and implement a year- long gender violence campaign that builds on their experiences with the “16 Days of Activism.”
The national draft plan serves as a tool to strengthen efforts to eradicate gender violence by holding governments, civil society, and other stakeholders responsible for commitments they make. The draft identifies key interventions for implementation throughout the year.
Part of the strength of the Plan is that it addresses traditional, cultural, and religious norms and ideologies that perpetuate violence. It also focuses on strengthening programmes regarding rehabilitating perpetrators, reconciling families, healing survivors, and supporting communities.  Futho-Letsatsi contends that this will further strengthen and call for programmes such as Man-to Man where men work to address their own violence as part of a negative notions of masculinity, which harms wives and children.
Speaking at the occasion, Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) Acting National Coordinator, Libakiso Matlho, said that the Plan also aims to ensure accessible, effective, and responsive police, prosecutorial, health and social welfare and establishing specialised units to redress cases on gender-based violence.
In this way, the Action Plan moves away from just raising awareness and implementing new laws, and towards putting services and initiatives in place that will help make change happen.  Experience from around the world suggests that what is required to accelerate the decrease of gender and child directed violence is a concerted, multi-sector action plan with concrete targets and measurable outputs.
Recognising that communities are at the forefront of responding to violence, the aim is to launch both national and district plans by next 16 Days of Activism 2008. Though these plans will incorporate international and regional commitments, they will take into account the Basotho way of doing things.
One aspect of the plan is to ensure Legislation and policy that address GBV, including lobbying for the reform of the Constitution to be gender responsive and advocating for the enactment of a Domestic Violence Act.
Another aspect is to ensure services, such as “one stop” services and the establishment of sexual offences courts in all districts. The plan will also provides for creating awareness and knowledge through campaign, training seminars, public gatherings and the media
The Action Plan comes just ahead of the August 2008 Heads of State meeting during which the regions’ leaders will again review a draft Protocol on Gender and Development. This Protocol, with concrete targets and commitments, would further strengthen the regional roadmap to end gender violence.
For Lesotho, and the region, ending gender violence is no longer the topic of a yearly campaign, but rather it is time to recognise this as a national obligation. After all, women, who experience the overwhelming majority of violence, make up over half the population of this region. National and regional leaders have a responsibility to see they have protections. Gender violence is something that needs attention all year, everyday.
Teboho Senthebane is a freelance writer and founding member of Media and Arts Watch Association (MAWA) Ts’ireletso, in Lesotho. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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