The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) together with the National Aids Commission (NAC) and Southern African AIDS Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS) held the Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYM) country dialogue on issues of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and how it contributes towards new HIV/ AIDS infections in the country.
Speaking at the pre-celebration of World AIDS Day, during a dialogue that was held in Maseru on Monday November 29, 2021, Hlao Tello on behalf of the (Lesbians and Gays, Bisexuals, Transgendered and Intersex (LGBTI), community disclosed that their members are mostly victimized in places where they hoped they would get most support from.
“We as the LGBTI community also experience forms of GBV, mostly from places where we thought we would be protected. The places include our churches, we also love to be part of the churches and praise God but the way people at church look at us makes us uncomfortable. We would love to contribute in many things that other people do but just because of our gender identities it becomes a problem,” he said.
Tello indicated that they also encounter problems where they are supposed to be given services. “In some instances when someone is a transgendered woman, when they go to police station to report rape they are asked mocking questions like how they explain being raped when they are male. In the country, gender is classified only as male or female, therefore documents at service delivery places depict such where officers even make their own judgements about which gender one ought to fall under without asking then make emotionally abusive comments when we do not answer to what they choose to label us,” he said.
Meanwhile, on behalf of commercial sex workers, Thato Makha from Key Affected Populations Alliance of Lesotho (KAPAL) stated that female sex workers do experience GBV perpetrated mostly by their clients.
“Sex workers are sometimes forced into unprotected sex or sometimes promised more money than they usually charge because their clients know that they cannot resist because they need that money, then take advantage of them” she said.
Makha said sex workers are also abused by the law enforcement agencies.
“It is said it is a criminal offence to sell sex, however instead of the officers of the law arresting sex workers, they take them to some doggy places where they rape and them there desolate. The treatment sex workers get at our health facilities is not acceptable at all. As a sex worker, one would go to a clinic mostly to be treated for sexually transmitted diseases but the treatment they get there as well as humiliating comments made by health professionals leaves one feeling emotionally abused,” she said.
For his part, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on the Social Cluster Fako Moshoehoe, indicated that soon cases of GBV will decrease because the Counter Domestic Bill will soon be enacted into law.
“Lesotho holds a first position in Africa and 5th position in the world on the cases of killings of women and children,” he said, adding that the situation is quite a shocker which needs concerted efforts by everyone to fight the crisis.
“Fighting against GBV has to start with gender equality, women must have same opportunities as men,” he said.
He indicated that sexual harassment, forced marriages and early unintended or forced pregnancy all contribute to the increase in HIV prevalence.
“The only way we could deal with high HIV prevalence amongst girls is to find a way to keep them in school. People need to see education as an investment not a liability,” he said.