Gir­l4ce breaks the si­lence

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

Peek­ing un­der a girl’s uni­form us­ing a mir­ror is one of the many pranks Ba­sotho teenagers play at school de­spite the anger this elic­its from their vic­tims.

This sick­en­ing ‘game’ has largely gone un­pun­ished be­cause the ag­grieved school­girls do not pur­sue the mat­ter with the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties for one rea­son or the other, among them fear of be­ing shunned by their peers or out­right bul­ly­ing by the pranksters.

But thanks to a Leribe-based youth move­ment fight­ing gen­der-based vi­o­lence (GBV), such abuse could soon be a thing of the past.

es­tab­lished in Oc­to­ber 2015 un­der the um­brella of Help Le­sotho, gir­l4ce is a youth ad­vo­cacy move­ment whose main fo­cus is to make so­ci­ety aware of the evils of sex­ual and gen­der-based vi­o­lence, as well as child and forced mar­riages.

To date, the move­ment has en­gaged over 3000 youths, tra­di­tional and church lead­ers and par­ents in Leribe and Butha-buthe.

Although the move­ment is driven by fe­male youths and tar­gets the 14 to 24 years age-group, young males con­sti­tute 10 per­cent of the mem­ber­ship.

Ac­cord­ing to one of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s lead­ers, Monoana Tente, gir­l4ce was es­tab­lished af­ter Help Le­sotho, which funded the first five months of the project, re­alised girls con­tin­ued to be vul­ner­a­ble to GBV and suf­fer in si­lence.

Mr Tente (18) said GBV as well as child and forced mar­riages were a ma­jor con­cern to gir­l4ce as they de­prived the vic­tims of a happy fu­ture.

Such prac­tices were usu­ally taken as nor­mal by so­ci­ety de­spite the ir­repara­ble harm they in­flict on the vic­tims hence Gir­l4ce’s de­ci­sion to tackle them head-on, Mr Tente added.

“Un­til i was part of the gir­l4ce move­ment, there were many things i did as a boy to­wards girls which ap­peared nor­mal to both me and so­ci­ety at large.

“For in­stance, it is nor­mal in our so­ci­ety for a group of boys to mock a girl who has turned down a pro­posal from one of them. i can bet that even old males have done such things and this is why they abuse women without even re­al­is­ing it be­cause it started a long time ago when they were chil­dren,” Mr Tente said.

He said this and many sim­i­lar acts con­tinue to sub­ject girls to abuse although in the eyes of so­ci­ety, they are per­ceived as nor­mal and harm­less.

The teenager said join­ing Gir­l4ce had helped him learn to make the right de­ci­sions and be sen­si­tive to other peo­ple’s feel­ings.

“We were fur­ther made to un­der­stand some acts which might not ap­pear as abu­sive to women, ac­tu­ally con­sti­tute GBV, such as the ap­proaches we use as teenagers to have sex with girls. We must still live our lives as the youth but in a more re­spon­si­ble and sen­si­tive way,” he said.

“Join­ing gir­l4ce has helped us un­der­stand that ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of their sex, has a voice in every de­ci­sion taken on their be­half, whether it’s in fam­ily, school, so­ci­ety or re­la­tion­ship set-ups.”

Help Le­sotho Se­nior Ad­vo­cacy and net­work Of­fi­cer, Fel­leng Lethola, says Gir­l4ce was es­tab­lished af­ter re­al­iz­ing fe­male chil­dren con­tin­ued to suf­fer in si­lence. Founded in 2004, Help Le­sotho is a rapidly grow­ing Cana­dian reg­is­tered char­ity part­ner­ing pub­lic, pri­vate and vol­un­teer re­sources to mit­i­gate against gen­der-in­equity and HIV/ AIDS in the coun­try.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion builds part­ner­ships with com­mu­nity lead­er­ship and or­ga­ni­za­tions in both coun­tries to sup­port lo­cally ini­ti­ated, cham­pi­oned and man­aged projects for the ben­e­fit of or­phans, vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and Le­sotho’s youths. key pro­grams in­clude child spon­sor­ship, grand­mother sup­port, schools in­volve­ment, teacher train­ing, and HIV/AIDS Clubs.

“We re­alised there were so many is­sues sur­round­ing child and forced mar­riages, among them drop­ping out of school be­cause of lack of funds and re­sort­ing to mar­riage as a way of es­cap­ing poverty,” Ms Lethola said.

She fur­ther said stud­ies had shown early mar­riages were dev­as­tat­ing on the un­der­age girls be­cause their bod­ies were not strong enough to carry their preg­nancy for nine months.

She con­tin­ued: “if such un­der­age girls give birth to healthy chil­dren, in most cases, you will find they don’t have time to be lov­ing moth­ers. For in­stance, you will find them play­ing out­side, leav­ing these chil­dren unat­tended be­cause they are still chil­dren them­selves.”

She added although child mar­riage is deeply rooted in most African so­ci­eties in­clud­ing Ba­sotho, it is still an un­ac­cept­able prac­tice which needs to be erad­i­cated.

“Chil­dren are still be­ing forced into mar­riage as a mech­a­nism for fam­i­lies to es­cape poverty.

“For in­stance, you find that un­der­age girls are mar­ried off to rich fam­i­lies which will pay a huge bride-price to her fam­ily.

“Some girls are also forced into mar­riages by their fam­i­lies sim­ply be­cause they would have fallen preg­nant and fam­i­lies be­lieve this is the so­lu­tion,” Ms Lethola asked.

girls, she added, con­tinue to en­dure this abuse be­cause most fam­i­lies be­lieve preg­nancy guar­an­tees them mar­riage and a happy life.

“The time to force chil­dren into mar­riage be­cause of preg­nancy has passed. Preg­nant chil­dren must be al­lowed to make their own de­ci­sions about their fu­ture be­cause at times, they end up abus­ing each other in their so­called mar­riage be­cause of poverty. Preg­nancy is not an an­swer to solv­ing one’s mar­i­tal sta­tus. Youths must get mar­ried be­cause they want to, not be­cause they are forced into it by cir­cum­stances like preg­nancy.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Lethola, many girls af­fected by this prac­tice suf­fer in si­lence and this is what Help Le­sotho is hop­ing to end by teach­ing the youth their rights.

She fur­ther said af­ter re­al­is­ing the girls do not live in iso­la­tion and that other sec­tors of so­ci­ety such as com­mu­nity lead­ers, teach­ers and even par­ents per­pet­u­ate GBV, Help Le­sotho de­cided to come in.

“Af­ter speak­ing with them, these adults re­alised they were play­ing a role in their chil­dren’s abuse.

“They ad­mit­ted that not talk­ing to their chil­dren was fan­ning GBV. They fur­ther re­alised that re­fer­ring to their off­spring as ‘to­day’s chil­dren who don’t lis­ten to their par­ents’ was not help­ing mat­ters as they would then run away to seek ad­vice from the wrong peo­ple.”

She also said Help Le­sotho funded gir­l4ce from Oc­to­ber 2015 to Fe­bru­ary 2016, and hopes the or­gan­i­sa­tion is go­ing to sur­vive.

“The girls are on their own now but we are still help­ing them wher­ever we can with things like or­gan­is­ing meet­ings at schools for their out­reach pro­grammes.

“We also have YES (Youth Em­pow­er­ment in Schools) Clubs made up of stu­dents, which is spon­sored by Help Le­sotho. gir­l4ce is also us­ing YES to em­power the youth in dif­fer­ent schools.”

One of the par­ents who ben­e­fit­ted from this pro­gramme, ‘Mam­pho Likhoka, said it was im­por­tant for par­ents to freely talk to their chil­dren about sex­ual re­pro­duc­tive health (SRH), sex­ual abuse and child mar­riage.

Ms Likhoka (55) is rais­ing her 10-year-old grand­daugh­ter she be­lieves must be “prop­erly” in­tro­duced to SRH as em­pow­er­ing her with knowl­edge is the only way to win the fight against the scourge of teenage preg­nancy, child mar­riage and sex­ual abuse.

“knowl­edge is power. i can’t pro­tect her for­ever and i am not al­ways with her so i made a de­ci­sion to start dis­cussing SRH with her at a ten­der age. Most par­ents make a mis­take of in­tro­duc­ing SRH dis­cus­sions with their chil­dren when they en­ter pu­berty and by that time, it is al­ready too late. i know it’s dif­fi­cult but once you have started, you sleep peace­fully at night know­ing that even if you die, you have given your child some­thing that will never be taken away from her,” Ms Likhoka said.

She how­ever warned the sub­ject of SRH must be care­fully in­tro­duced to the child be­cause the wrong in­for­ma­tion could de­stroy her.

“For me, the ap­pro­pri­ate age to in­tro­duce SRH is five years be­cause that’s when they start re­al­is­ing that their bod­ies are dif­fer­ent. That’s when they start pick­ing in­ter­est in things like fam­ily set-up and you grad­u­ally in­tro­duce these things to them.

“At the mo­ment, i am dis­cussing re­la­tion­ships, sex and mar­riage with my grand­daugh­ter be­cause soon she will start men­stru­at­ing and tak­ing in­ter­est in boys.

“Mostly dis­cus­sions are cen­tered around wait­ing un­til she is ready to have sex. i en­cour­age her to wait un­til she is 20 be­cause i strongly be­lieve at that age, she would now be in a po­si­tion to know what she wants in life.

“For as long as she knows her rights and will not al­low boys into trick­ing her to have sex, i am happy and will sup­port her de­ci­sions no mat­ter how painful they might be to me,” she said.

“We know that to­day’s chil­dren rush into sex but we can only hope and pray dis­cussing SRH with them will help de­lay such ac­tiv­i­ties. i re­mem­ber telling my grand­daugh­ter she must wait for the right time to have a boyfriend and i was very happy to learn that teach­ers are al­ways en­cour­ag­ing them to con­cen­trate on their books.”

For those who can­not wait for mar­riage to have sex, Ms Likhoka en­cour­aged them to use con­doms to avoid teenage preg­nan­cies and child mar­riages.

Gir­l4ce Move­ment en­cour­ages Leribe and Butha-buthe youth to stand up and be heard in their com­mu­ni­ties.

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