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184 sexual offences reported since January

By Liapeng Raliengoane

MASERU –The Police’s Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) reports that from January through July 2022, there have been 184 sexual offences and 45 assault cases perpetrated against women.

This is according to the Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 546 released on August 31 2022.

The report states that gender-based violence (GBV) is a reality for many women in Lesotho. In 2021, at least 47% of women murdered in Lesotho were killed by their intimate partners.

UNAIDS 2021 also reports that GBV is a serious threat to the nation both developmentally and economically, recognised as one of the drivers of HIV in a country that has the third-highest prevalence rate in the world at 23.2%.

“The GBV Indicators Study by Gender Links 2015 reported that 86% of women and 40% of men in Lesotho experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, and that a majority of victims do not report the violence to the police or seek medical attention or legal recourse. Among barriers to reporting, the study identified survivor stigmatisation by the community, feelings of shame, inadequate police response to victims, and the belief that domestic violence is a private matter not to be discussed with strangers. A study by the Commonwealth 2020 reported that about one-third of women in Lesotho suffer sexual or physical violence in their lifetime and that GBV costs the country 5.5% of its gross domestic product in lost income and expenses associated with medical, legal, and police support,” reads the dispatch.

The dispatch indicates that activists blame patriarchy for fuelling GBV in the country, despite the Sexual Offences Act (2003) and the Married Persons Act (2006) providing for equal rights for men and women in marriage, the Customary Law subordinating women to men is still very much part of society in Lesotho. That in June 2022, the Upper House passed the Counter Domestic Violence Bill 2021, but critics say policing and judicial responses will also need to be strengthened to reduce the country’s GBV problem.

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of GBV: in Lesotho, most citizens say physical force is never justified to discipline women. But they say that GBV is a common occurrence and constitutes the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and the country must address. A majority of Basotho believe that the police are likely to take GBV cases seriously and that GBV should be treated as a criminal act rather than a private matter.

The Afrobarometer team in Lesotho, led by Advision Lesotho, interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,200 citizens in February-March 2022. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. Previous standard surveys were conducted in Lesotho in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2020.

Key findings: Basotho see GBV as the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and society must address. A majority (53%) of citizens say violence against women is a “somewhat common” (28%) or “very common” (25%) occurrence in their community.

More than eight in 10 (85%) Basotho say it is “never” justified for a man to physically discipline his wife. About two in 10 think it is “sometimes” (11%) or “always” (4%) justified. Almost six in 10 respondents (56%) consider it “somewhat likely” (29%) or “very likely” (27%) that a woman will be criticised or harassed if she reports GBV to the authorities. But most citizens (79%) say the police are likely to take cases of GBV seriously. A slim majority (53%) of Basotho say domestic violence should be treated as a criminal matter rather than as a private matter to be resolved within the family.

In Lesotho, almost two-thirds (64%) of citizens identify GBV as the most important women’s-rights issue for the government and society to address. GBV ranks far ahead of unequal opportunities or pay in the workplace (11%), unequal rights of property ownership and inheritance (9%), unequal access to education (7%), and too few women in influential positions in government (7%) as priorities.

Women (56%) are slightly more likely than men (51%) to say that violence against women and girls is a common occurrence, as are urban residents (60%) compared to their rural counterparts (51%). This perception is also more widespread among poor citizens (58% of those experiencing high “lived poverty”) but less common among those with no formal education (47%). Older respondents (50%) are less likely to report that GBV happens frequently.

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, nonpartisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life. Eight rounds of surveys have been completed in up to 39 countries since 1999, and Round 9 surveys (2021/2022) are currently underway. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice.

Regional coordination of national partners in about 35 countries is provided by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in South Africa, and the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. Michigan State University (MSU) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) provide technical support to the network.