Originally posted by Kick4Life on December 3, 2012.
Every year, from November 25 to December 10, governments, NGOs and individuals worldwide take part in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence – an international campaign which aims to raise awareness of the issue of gender-based violence.
In Lesotho, sexual violence against women and girls is a widespread problem. Unequal gender relations and belief in the sexual entitlement of men are entrenched in cultural and social norms, and the country has a very high incidence of rape.
At Kick4Life, we recognise that gender-based violence and the spread of HIV are inextricably linked. This year, as part of the 16 Days, we held a Story Writing Workshop which invited everybody and anybody to come along and share their stories about the issue. Participants could write about anything which they felt comfortable sharing.
The stories collected during the workshop provide a moving reflection on gender-based violence in Lesotho today. A wide range of viewpoints and issues are explored. Two of the writers are rape survivors, and share with us their very personal stories. Several speak of friends or community members who have been affected, and others share their experiences of being witness to gender-based violence in their homes as children.
The stories are not easy to read, and many readers may ask themselves why they have been shared at all. How does sharing upsetting tales of violence help anybody?
The answer is simple: in the majority of cases, victims of sexual violence are silenced. In one of the stories shared on this blog, a girl is raped by her father. The author recalls: “he told me never to say a word to anybody, not even to my Mum, or else he [would] slaughter me like a lamb.” A 2004 report on gender-based violence in Lesotho found that many women who had been raped chose not to report the rape to the police because they feared accusation and questioning from male officers. The report also found that few women who were raped had sought out existing services, that women were less likely to disclose if the perpetrator was someone that they knew, and that community members often placed the blame on rape victims, rather than offering them their understanding and support.
Speaking out about sexual violence is crucial. On an individual basis, for victims of rape, it is a critical first step towards recovery. As one of the writers here shares, after talking with others, she felt that: “my pain was gone because I spoke out. Until now, as I write, I am OK and a survivor.”
On a larger, collective scale, encouraging people to speak out draws attention to the magnitude of the issue, and can be an important starting point in mobilising communities towards positive action.
Stories such as these also help bring to life an issue which is all too often clouded with jargon and seemingly abstract concepts. These stories remind us that the heavy term ‘gender-based violence’ in reality refers to every-day incidences in many people’s lives.
The stories contain strongly worded statements from both women and men which show that many young people in Lesotho are unafraid to speak out against the issue. One young man writes: “Physical abuse to women just shows how weak men are… GBV happens with those men who don’t want to be corrected of their mistakes, who think they are always right even if they are wrong.”
We hope that you find value in these stories, and that they bring the issue of gender-based violence closer to home, wherever in the world you are. Please feel free to post your comments on this blog. If you live in Lesotho and would like to contribute a story, please email [email protected]. This blog will stay up and will be available for all to read throughout the year – http://kick4lifespeakout.blogspot.com/